Health, safety and massive cock ups

Health, safety and massive cock ups

By NellFrizzellIdeasTap 16/02/11

Health and safety may be the whipping boy of such cultural guiding lights as Noel Edmonds and Jeremy Clarkson, but risk assessment is a vital part of any creative event. Here’s our totally try-this-at-home guide to reducing your risks…


What do you do when your fashion editor decides that they want a photography shoot involving live crocodiles?

Well, in the case of one unfortunate acquaintance, you go out to a warehouse in the middle of Essex, filled with anaemic, desultory-looking wildlife, and wait for the handler to prise the gaffer tape off the croc’s jaws. I kid you not. The only thing standing between our hero and a fairly serious case of croc-bite was a wild-eyed handler, a big stick and a roll of tape.

Sometimes a little risk assessment can go a long way.

As the Coming Up creative directors prepare for our underground festival, struggling with the myriad risks of dogs, dinners and a bevvy of professional wrestlers, we thought we’d get some expert advice on keeping healthy and safe.

Justin O'Shaughnessy, the Festival Producer at Shoreditch Trust, knows more than most about creatively approaching risk assessment. “I’ve worked on a number of performances since the mid-1990s with artists who bleed as part of their performance,” Justin told IdeasTap. “Last year Franko B did a piece in the Tate Modern turbine hall where he put blood taps in his arms and walked up and down a 50m white canvas like a catwalk model,with blood dripping out of him. It was my job to stop him after 12 minutes, which is the capacity for his bleeding, and I worked with a lot of medical practitioners to find out how best neutralise the risk of live blood.”

When it comes to risk assessment, the general public are often most at risk. “It’s easier to put the general public at risk than trained professionals because the public come to a piece of work with no experience or understanding of what they have to do,” says Justin. “I am currently looking for a derelict street that an artist can paint entirely black. They want to get the local community involved, but according to the working at height directives, no-one can work above 2.5m without proper equipment.”

“The real golden rule is recording everything,” he says. “You must show that you’ve documented your thinking. If there is a lightning strike on a tent, and you didn’t install a lightning rod, that probably isn’t your fault. You just need to show that you went through an appropriate health and safety process.”

Of course, from time to time things do go wrong. The Spiderman musical, the most expensive Broadway show of all time[so far it has cost a cool $65 million], has been repeatedly delayed by injuries to its actors and stuntmen.

Similarly, in October 2010, actor David Birrell was seriously injured during the Passion duel scene at the Donmar Warehouse after a stage gun, which was meant to fire blanks, misfired, causing debris to fly into his eye.

However, health and safety disasters can, sometimes, lead to creative triumphs. After a power cut in the auditorium, performers at the premiere of Into the Little Hill were forced to stage the opera in the bar.

As Justin says, risk assessment is all about finding creative solutions.


For an invaluable step-by-step guide to health and safety, download Justin’s PDF on how to Produce a Risk Assessment. Justin O’Shaughnessy teaches on the Music Event Management and Production Degree at City University.


Image by celine nadeau.


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