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Wellington boots, suncream, insurance: how risk transfer helps make festivals happen

Ian Taylor, Class Underwriter at AXA XL provides insight into the work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that festival events run smoothly and safely.


There are, of course, inherent risks in having large groups of people gathered in one place at the same time.

Festival season is in full swing in the UK. And whether you were soaking up Stormzy, The Cure and Kylie at Glastonbury, or if your taste runs more to literary gatherings or folk or jazz-music events, there is something for everybody.

Across the UK this summer, revellers will flock to their festival of choice, armed with sun cream and wellington boots. What they won’t see, though, is the work that has gone on behind the scenes to ensure the event runs smoothly and safely.

As well as robust risk and safety management plans, event organisers work with specialist insurance brokers and underwriters to ensure they have coverages in place to transfer some of the risks associated with these mass events.

Who, what, where?

There are, of course, inherent risks in having large groups of people gathered in one place at the same time.

As underwriters, one of the first things we look at when assessing a festival risk is the likely make-up of the audience. It might not come as a surprise to learn that events where there might be stage-diving or large mosh pits are not necessarily our ideal risk to underwrite.

Our preference is to underwrite the coverage for festivals that have been running a while and whose organisers have experience of putting on these events, that have a modest number of attendees and have a family feel.

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive advises that event organisers should assess the size and profile of the audience they are expecting – are they young, are there large numbers of attendees that might have additional physical or educational needs, for example? Organisers must assess whether the venue is suitable for the likely make-up of the crowd.

Event organisers may also, the HSE says, need to liaise with other bodies such as local authorities and emergency services, transport operators or the management of nearby transport hubs. Discussions about health and safety issues with other service providers, such as merchandising or food suppliers, may also be necessary.

Organisers should have a crowd management plan taking into account how and when attendees will enter and exit the site, and how they likely will circulate around the site; crowd movement analysis is a science in itself.

Security is another major factor when it comes to mass events. This is something that event organisers will discuss with local authorities ahead of time.

Many sites have not just one perimeter fence but two, to improve security.

Terrorism is, understandably, a fear for organisers. Again, the profile of the audience is key here. Many events have an undercover police presence on the lookout for suspicious activity. And security officers are trained to detect when attendees are acting in unusual ways.

These are all factors that underwriters study closely when assessing risk and, again, it goes back to whom the event will attract and the specifics of the site.

Set up, break down

The set-up and break-down, or de-rigging, phases of festivals can bring with them risks. Here, underwriters assess the onsite safety procedures to avoid high-level risks, such as falls from height, and more everyday risks such as slips and trips.

The familiarity of the construction team with the site, the equipment and the organisers are factors that insurers explore when underwriting events.

While events are being set up, sites are classed as construction sites and the same health and safety rules apply.

The tech

The equipment involved in putting on a large event is both specialised and valuable.

The risk of theft is relatively low, however – it is not easy to re-sell a huge speaker or massive screen. But the risk of damage to these extremely pricey pieces of equipment is a concern.

The experience and reliability of the crew being used is something that underwriters will look at here.

And – again- the profile of the likely audience is a factor. Certain types of crowd are less likely to try to climb up the rigging or leap onto a giant speaker than others.

Weather is another potential risk to the high-tech equipment used for music events. Many festival organisers have mini weather stations to monitor conditions and ensure they are prepared for changes. And sound and screen equipment is often designed with weather risk in mind; the highly valuable giant screens used at music events are built to withstand high winds and many can fold into themselves, like curtains, should winds reach a certain speed.

Big business

Festivals can be big business bringing in large revenues for organisers and playing an important role for record labels showcasing artistes, for example.

Working with experienced underwriters can be key to help organisers understand, mitigate, manage and transfer some of the risks.

The festival industry in the UK is vibrant, with new events being created all the time.

For example, when Lee Denny’s parents went away for a holiday in 2006, when he was 16, he found a loophole in their “no house parties” rule and invited some friends over to hear some bands play on a small stage in the garden. Thirteen years later, Neverworld (formerly known as “Leefest”) is a 5,000-capacity annual event with nine stages.

Whatever the genre, there is a festival or event happening somewhere. And while the performances and ambiance are what will be remembered, insurance plays its part in making these events happen.

This content is reproduced from an original post that first appeared on the AXA XL website. It has been curated and reposted here by editors. View the original article here.