Although the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic brought the live events industry to a virtual standstill, the past 15 months have been busier than ever for SACIA’s Events Safety Council. The Council is an association of event safety specialists and event safety companies providing event safety solutions for the South African event sector. It is part of a global network of event safety professionals dealing with health and safety in the events industry.
The advent of the pandemic saw Council members, unable to earn a living under lockdown restrictions, volunteering their time to drive the recovery of the event sector in South Africa instead. “It has been a rollercoaster ride, keeping one’s wits about you, staying motivated and positive, and pressurising the government to recognise that our professional recovery plan will successfully keep people COVID-safe at the events we host,” says Interim Chair Mike Lord.
Previously, the Event Safety Council focused primarily on general safety risks such as erecting structures, crowd management, and fire plans. However, the arrival of COVID-19 emphasised health risk management firmly ahead of general safety. Now health risk and safety risk must be dealt with simultaneously when planning an event. The viral spread has become another risk in the event safety chain. Like any other risk within an event, one must identify the hazard, determine who will be harmed and provide prevention and control measures to eliminate, remove the risk or mitigate against its occurrence.
“COVID-19 is a complex problem, and there is no single, simple solution. The environment keeps changing, and the laws are constantly being adjusted – as a result, it is difficult to keep up. We are tackling the problem with science, facts and experience while keeping an eye on global trends,” explains Lord. “The lack of stability over the past 15 months has made planning impossible and threatens the very survival of this sector. The events industry is advocating recovery via the #trustUs campaign and continuously lobbying the government to work with our experts to re-open our industry. Government and Private Sector need to work collaboratively. Once the government takes our sector into their confidence, they will realise that we are a dynamic, professional, solutions-driven industry with implementable solutions that can safely open the road to recovery. The laws governing events in South Africa are already in place, and with enforcement and compliance, we believe we can hold organised events in a COVID-safe manner.”
The Safety at Sports and Recreation Events Act (SASREA) defines an event as a sporting, entertainment, recreational, religious, cultural, exhibitional, organisational or similar activity. While this definition is broad, it has become evident that each of these events falls into a sporting, live/entertainment or business category. The Council has been working towards aligning the thinking around safety across subsectors. “All three segments must work together in responding to COVID-19 to allow higher numbers to attend all types of events in a safe, controlled and organised manner,” says Lord.
In South Africa, business events such as conferences, exhibitions and other business-related meetings fall under the Department of Tourism. In contrast, live and sporting events fall under the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, so the efforts to influence policy must use different approaches for each.
With its partners in the SA Events Council (SAEC), the Event Safety Council is actively engaged with the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC). “Since SACIA published the Re-Opening Guidelines for the Events Industry in June 2020, the message that the sector is ready to re-open safely has been echoed across all subsequent initiatives,” says SACIA Executive Director, Kevan Jones. “DSAC now recognises SACIA as representatives of the industry. SACIA members work closely with senior officials from DSAC to develop a roadmap for recovery. “
Various national sporting federations also recognised SACIA’s work and asked them to consult on the re-opening plan for sporting spectators. Early in 2021, DSAC mandated the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) to manage COVID-19 protocols for the sporting sector and to provide a response plan for all sporting federations to adopt.
SASCOC then formally invited the Event Safety Council to join their working committee. Within a quick turnaround, the Council assisted SASCOC in writing Spectator Guidelines that were presented to the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture at the end of March. Since then, the Council has been lobbying DSAC around how the Sporting arena can implement the Spectator Guidelines. The emphasis is on using lateral flow antigen rapid testing as an enhanced screening mechanism for eliminating COVID-19 from the events space, particularly when large numbers are in attendance.
The Council has proposed to allow spectators to return through a set of pilot events in which rapid antigen testing facilitates are used.
Over the past 15 months, the live and business event sectors have collectively adopted the Re-Opening Guidelines and agree on their primary role in the event recovery roadmap.
As part of the SA Events Council, the Event Safety Council leadership has been party to all discussions with the Department of Tourism and the Tourism Business Council South Africa in lobbying for the re-opening of business events.
Both groups are working hard at putting business events forward as COVID-safe environments and have demonstrated this with numerous proof-of-concept events. Together, they continue to lobby the government to allow business events to be a catalyst in the recovery of the South African economy and to, in turn, drive business tourism.
As Vice-Chair of the Event Safety Council, Sam September has also been personally involved in consulting with various Government entities and other stakeholders. He, too, can testify to the amount of work that has gone into getting the events sector back up and running in a safe and risk-free way. “The event space has always been regulated, but the advent of COVID-19 has brought the issue of health and safety into stark focus. Our progress has sometimes been slow and frustrating, but the Event Safety Council’s effort since lockdown commenced has not been in vain. I believe that continued interaction with the Government structures will lead to a better understanding of our industry, and a recognition of our sector’s contribution to the GDP of our country. We will come out of this pandemic a much stronger, united sector with a closer relationship with our key stakeholder, the DSAC,” he says.