When it comes to safety planning, how safe is safe?

Ultimately, risk is subjective. No action, place, or activity is entirely without risk, and every person and organization has a different level of comfort with or appetite for risk. Event producers may need to consider audience demographics, the nature of their events, mission, finances, position within the community, and many other factors when making decisions about what level of risk they are willing to tolerate in different areas of their event design.

The goal for those producing events should be to 1) mitigate risks to the greatest exent feasible, and 2) provide potential attendees with enough information about both the risks and the control measures in place for them to make their own informed decision about whether and how to participate. 

How to mitigate risks

One of the first steps of safety planning is to conduct a risk assessment to evaluate the likelihood and extent of potential harm to which your organization or events are vulnerable. Learn more about risk assessments in this article. The next step is to mitigate risks to the extent possible. This involves designing mitigation measures, outlining them into a safety plan, conducting training for your staff or volunteers, and implementing and enforcing these measures in your operations.

The hierarchy of hazard control is a system used across many industries to reduce exposure to hazards and harm. It involves five kinds of risk management mechanisms, listed here from most to least effective:

  • Elimination. Is there something you could physically remove or a process you could modify that would eliminate the risk you identified in your risk assessment?
  • Substitution is a form of hazard elimination. Could you replace or update a material to remove the hazard? Be careful in this case to ensure you are not introducing a new hazard.
  • Engineering controls. If the hazard cannot be eliminated or substituted, engineering controls involve physically isolating people from the hazard so that they are protected from the risk.
  • Administrative controls. This mechanism involves reducing the risk of harm by directing people to work or behave in a safe manner. It might involve training, warning signs or labels, and other procedures. It is less effective than engineering controls, which physically protect people from the hazard, but more effective than doing nothing or relying exclusively on the next kind of control, PPE.
  • PPE (personal protective equipment) – PPE can help reduce the risk of harm to physical threats when no other option is available, or in concert with engineering and administrative controls. 
Infographic by NIOSH. Control methods at the top of graphic are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom. Following this hierarchy normally leads to the implementation of inherently safer systems, where the risk of illness or injury has been substantially reduced. Image by Michael Pittman, in the public domain.

This article was created as part of the Changing the Tune project, developed in partnership with Majestic Collaborations and made possible thanks to a grant from Performing Arts Readiness.