We are living in a society where the focus on safety has never been more prevalent. Safety seems to be taking over our daily lives with warning signs displayed on almost anything we use, and advice and guidance given on everything we do. Have we become totally focused on safety for fear of litigation, or have we just learnt lessons from historical tragedies?
Health and safety at work is nothing new, having been with us for well over 100 years. Dr Mike Esbester, an historian from the University of Plymouth, UK recently discovered an illustrated magazine which was published in August 1913 and attempted to inform Great Western Railway employees of the dangers they faced at work. It would appear that this has paved the way for today’s health and safety laws and the cautious society we now live in.
Firefighter Safety, Crowd Safety, Public Safety, Community Safety etc. are frequently used terms that we have all become familiar with, but do we really understand what they all mean?
Have we just adopted phrases that give the impression we are doing the right thing, or when we scratch the surface do we actually uncover a culture where safety comes as second nature?
‘Elf and Safety’ is frequently ridiculed in the media and blamed for creating an environment where we are prevented from doing the things we have always enjoyed and that we are depriving the next generation of these experiences. Although it is amazing how quickly this ridicule is replaced with anger and outrage when someone is injured or killed because of failure to adopt an appropriate safety system.
Health and Safety must not be limited to the workplace or undertaken just because there is a legislative requirement – we must all undertake to share the responsibility to create and maintain a safe environment in which to live.
‘Life Safety’ is a term I first came across being used by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and one that I believe we should adopt to embrace our shared responsibility to public safety, regardless of whether we are at work or not. Life Safety is a community responsibility and needs to form part of our community cohesion – we need the public to understand our statutory duty and look to engage with and encourage them to adopt a life safety culture for their communities.
Event safety management is an area that I am involved with and I regularly find myself being asked to give advice and guidance in relation to life safety at events of all sizes.
Public expectation is vitally important and something that we should be mindful of in everything we undertake. When creating and maintaining a safe environment this is something that we must not lose sight of and we must ensure that our fire and rescue services, as ‘Responsible Authorities’, continue to work with all multi-agency partners to ensure that life safety is maintained at a level that is deemed appropriate for the activities being undertaken.
In these times of austerity, we should all acknowledge the need to ‘deliver more with less’, but this must not allow us to lose sight of the importance of life safety.
There have been too many event-related tragedies across the world to list them all, but the following have had dramatic effects on legislation and clearly demonstrated the importance of planning for life safety: Hillsborough Football Stadium, UK (1989); Sabarimala, India (1999); Roskilde, Denmark (2000); Pukkelpop, Belgium (2011); Mina, Saudi Arabia (2015); Astroworld Festival, USA (2021).
These events should serve as a lesson to us all in relation to life safety and the importance of a joined-up approach to event safety management. The circumstances surrounding these tragedies, the subsequent enquiries and the fight for justice should be studied by anyone involved in life safety.
Safety Advisory Groups (SAGs) are nothing new with the framework for them coming from the 1975 Safety at Sports Grounds Act (UK). This framework was further strengthened following the input from Lord Justice Taylor’s report into Hillsborough. However, we find ourselves almost 35 years on and SAGs are still not mandatory and are seen by many as a ‘nice to do’ rather than a ‘must do’.
The use of SAGs should not be limited to sporting venues or large-scale events but should be integrated into our communities and used as a method of community engagement and a conduit to provide advice and guidance on a complete range of safety-related issues. Although SAGs are UK specific, there is no reason this model of life safety coordination can’t be used anywhere around the world.
I regularly hear of instances where authorities are choosing not to resource activities where they have no statutory responsibility as a way of reducing financial burden. This approach is interesting and one that I would consider to be a risk to any organisation unless a thorough risk-based process has been undertaken, which must take into consideration public expectation and life safety. I find it difficult to understand that if you know something is a risk how you can justify doing nothing to manage it. If you were called to give evidence to an enquiry, would you be satisfied that you could demonstrate that you showed ‘due diligence’ and that your response was ‘suitable and sufficient’?
For emergency services, responsible authorities and the community, life safety must be the number-one priority, not because it is something we have to do but because we know it is the right thing to do.