Íse Murphy

#3. The impact of legislation on competency

While researching crowd safety and the impact of legislation on crowd safety, one of the key themes that warranted exploring was competency, as legislation and regulation are designed, amended, introduced and managed by human beings. For the purpose of this article, competency is framed as follows: that a person within a role has been given the appropriate training and qualifications, possessing the skills and experience in order to carry out their role effectively.

The key agents within the industry I believe impact crowd safety the most within planning, licensing and delivering of events are those who attend Safety Advisory Groups or licensing meetings. For the purpose of this dissertation, I called them Presenters and Assessors and defined them as;

In academia, competency is widely defined within in the rationalistic approach, as an attribute based phenomenon constituted by specific sets of attributes such as knowledge, skills and experience in order to carry out a task effectively (Yang, 1984; Spencer and Spencer, 1993; Sandberg, 2000; Chang et al, 2012). The need for competence can be defined as an individual’s desire to feel effective in engaging with their environmen_t (Deci and Ryan, 2000), and is discussed within the realm of workplace job analysis, dominated by three main approaches; _worker-orientated (skills attributed to the worker), work-orientated (role specific activities transformed into personal attributes), and the multi method-orientated (combination of both approaches). This attribute focused approach appears to be adopted by the Health & Safety Executive in the UK as their definition of competence is as follows;

"combination of training, skills, experience and knowledge that a person has and their ability to apply them to perform a task safely" (HSE, 2020).

The competency of Assessors and Presenters is considered a theme in this study as they perform key decision making roles regarding legislation and event approval. If these professionals hold a high degree of skill and experience, they can offer complex technical guidance on critical decision making as they are able to make decisions despite incomplete, incorrect or contradictory information (Klein et al, 2017:67). As events can often be one-off, unique and highly impactful on an environment and people, I believe being able to make effective decisions despite incomplete information contributes to competency.

Competency of Assessors

The development of SAGs stemmed from the SSGA75 upon the recommendation from the Taylor report into the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster (Taylor, 1990). Under the SSGA75, the Local Authority is charged with issuing the safety certificate, where the SAG exists to advise. This structure has been extended to events that do not fall under the SSGA, such as outdoor events and festivals. Assessors include those who either chair a SAG or assume a role that critically analyses and advises on an event plan within the SAG.

Studies reveal that there is inconsistency in the competency of local authorities and Safety Advisory Groups (Elliott and Smith, 2006; Upton, 2007; White, 2009). There is currently no requirement for SAG personnel (Assessors) to hold any expertise in crowd and event safety, with the risk being that they may not possess the necessary skills to effectively challenge, advise or assess event plans. Further more, those who are tasked with assessing event plans and issuing licences do not show a consistent level of expertise in the area to be able to do so (Elliott and Smith, 2006). Indeed, guidance exists, however Upton (2007) noted that guidance can be interpreted differently by local authority personnel, and inexperienced persons can treat guidance as rigid rules compared to experienced persons who may be more likely to utilise it as the support tool it was designed to be.

When the LA03 came into power, this brought a significant shift in powers from courts to local authorities (LA). Some issues that arose with this devolution in power included the lack of training or experience by councillors responsible for setting budgets and licensing teams delivering. There was concern for those in powerful decision-making roles who did not have the knowledge nor understanding to effectively make decisions (Herring, 2009). Furthermore, White (2009) claims that local authorities who organise large events themselves may be better placed to assess event plans and deal with related issues. This partly may be due to learning by proximate experience in context; a concept that forms part of Klein's (1999) Recognition Primed Decision Model, which identified that people can learn from other’s experience in order to improve their own decision making.

Competency of Presenters

As previously discussed, "management failures" account for a high number of disasters and failures in safety culture (Le Coze, 2013), and although safety culture starts at the root of an ogranisation, it is important to pay attention to the competency of event organisers and consultants as they make operational decisions regarding crowd safety.  In the UK at present, there is no legal requirement for an event manager or crowd manager to hold a qualification in order to organise an event (Fillingeri et al, 2018). Recently however, guidance has been updated to reflect the need for qualification. An example below is Section 13 Crowd Management of the Purple Guide in both 2020 and 2022 (Event Industry Forum, 2022):

(2020) “13.1 The preparation of a crowd management plan … should be prepared by a competent person appointed to direct or manage security and/or crowd management and/or safety. The appointed person should have relevant knowledge and experience to identify crowd specific hazards, and propose the use of suitable measures to reduce risk.”

(2022) 13.1 The preparation of a Crowd Management Plan is an essential part of the event management planning process. It should be prepared by a competent and qualified person who has the knowledge and experience necessary to identify crowd specific hazards and propose suitable measures to reduce risk. In some cases, specialists are appointed to direct and manage crowd safety, though this may not be suitable for all events

Although the document now states a person needs to be competent and qualified, there are no legal requirements for this to be enforced. Due to a lack of competency standards, many event organisers base design, information and management plans on previous experience, rather than training or education, which in part is due to the lack of standardised training and qualifications required to organise an event (Au et al, 1993; Fillingeri et al, 2018). A possible reason is that only in the last thirty years has the subject of 'Event Management' arisen as an independent entity within academia (Backman, 2018), and so formal university qualifications have only developed since then.

The introduction of the LA03 created a mandatory requirement for proof of competency through professional qualification, compared to the previous approach of  authorities’ own judgement that a person’s competence is ‘fit for purpose’ (Talbot, 2006). However, this qualification is only required when there is sale or supply of alcohol at an event and is not required for the safe management of possibly thousands of people.

Survey of Assessors and Presenters

The impact of legislation, or lack thereof, has allowed for the professional development of Presenters and Assessors which may be out of balance of what academia and industry are stating as appropriate levels of competency required to ensure crowd safety.

Although academia presents a perspective of how the current environment is regarding competency of Assessors and Presenters, it was important to learn their own perceptions of competency, legislation, crowd safety as it is today and the future of crowd safety. The next chapter discusses the findings of a survey of 108 professionals who work in crowd and event safety from both the organising and licensing perspective. (Please note this survey was conducted in 2020 and as we know, there have been significant shifts in the industry since then)


See here for the full list of dissertation references.

#crowd safety #dissertation