Viewpoint: Hidden Safety Concerns Should Be Top Priority for Event Productions

Melissa Baglio
(Image credit: Future)

There are many hidden safety factors to consider while companies are trying to get back to “normal.” The pandemic caused layoffs and complete company restructuring that was never planned or imagined. Tough decisions were made to let staff go as shows were cancelled and revenue dried up. Warehouses full of millions of dollars in equipment have laid dormant waiting to be used again.

Now, almost two years later, we are trying to gain operational traction, overcome challenges, and come back stronger. These safety considerations aren’t about making sure you have an adequate amount of cable ramps or that fire exits are clearly marked. This is about gear inspections and certifications, staff training, and mental health. It sounds like an odd list of safety concerns, but they are all more important than ever.

New Inspections, New Training

As events have picked up speed over the last few months, it’s hard to believe gear has sat on shelves for more than a year. There’s a common misconception that you can dust off everything and it will work like it did before, but that is not necessarily the case. Equipment that was once used daily and inspected by a warehouse team hasn’t been turned on or used in quite some time. Batteries have died and chain motor grease has dried up.

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The highest priority with equipment should be updating expired inspections and certifications. Per ANSI standards, any chain hoist that has not been operated for a period of a year or longer should be removed from use until it can be fully inspected, and all aerial lifts must be inspected no more than 13 months from the date of the last annual inspection. It’s best to start planning for yearly inspections as early as possible. There are shortages with parts, and lead times can be long with limited staff facilitating inspections.

Melissa Baglio

(Image credit: Pixabay)

Back in 2019, companies had freelancers, full-time staff, and contractors to keep events moving, but many of those teams no longer exist. Companies are having to start over with a fresh roster; some staff were laid off, several have moved on to other jobs, and a few have left the industry completely.

This is a time of rebuilding. Every company should see this as the opportunity to improve their safety and training policies. Company handbooks should be updated or created to reflect updated COVID-19 policies, along with any new procedures that may need to be implemented. Safety trainings are often overlooked, but if you’re planning to bring in new staff or just bring back old staff, it’s most likely they’ll need refresher courses in first aid, CPR, and company safety protocols.

Mental Health Management

Mental health should no longer be portrayed as a stigma because statistics are proving that it is more common than some might think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2019 nearly one in five adults in the United States were living with a mental illness. Today, those numbers are considerably higher, with some studies showing that as many as 80 percent of Americans are struggling with anxiety, depression, grief, or isolation. Combined with understaffed companies and individuals covering multiple positions, you are setting your team up for burnout and turnover.

It’s imperative that companies invest in their employee’s well-being. Resources should be provided to staff—Behind the Scenes Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Initiative is a great place to start. There’s a large list of U.S. and Canadian resources including suicide prevention information, an entertainment industry therapist finder, and even mental health first aid training.

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Company culture should support mental health and create an inviting work environment where people feel empowered to speak up when they or someone they know are struggle with their mental health. Staff should be provided more flexibility to their schedules to take time for themselves. And managers need to advocate for mental health, because it will foster a safe and supportive environment for employees.

While this only scratches the surface of safety factors to consider as events come back, they are key to providing a safe and solid foundation for your company to succeed—and keep your employees happy. The industry is cautiously optimistic after 20 months of this pandemic, but we have a long way to go before we are back to full speed. Getting ahead of gear inspections, certifications, and training, as well as providing mental health resources to staff, will ensure that you and your company are invested in the safety and well-being of the entire team.

Mel Baglio

Mel Baglio is director of operations for AV Chicago, which provides AV production and event management services.