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With the corporate manslaughter law coming into effect this spring, event insurance can no longer be avoided, warns Louise Troy.
Few phrases are as likely to elicit a groan as the dreaded ‘health and safety’. But behind the headlines about schools banning conker matches and burglars getting compensation after being attacked by the family dog lies some life-saving legislation and, with the introduction of a corporate manslaughter law in April this year, it’s even more important for the events industry to wise up.
Designed to clamp down on the worst cases of corporate negligence, this new law also makes it easier to prosecute event organisers if, say, their poor vetting of suppliers contributes to a client breaking their neck at their office party.
So how can you protect yourself? John Hooker of event management company THA Group suggests a four-pronged approach: eliminating risk by using properly vetted suppliers, reducing risk by ‘walking the course’ before events, accepting risk by being prepared for the worst-case scenario, and passing risk on with proper event insurance.
It may sound ominous, but industry experts are keen to stress that corporate jollies don’t need to be scrapped altogether, just soberly assessed. Roger Bibbings of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says: ‘You’re not going to be prosecuted for taking people potholing provided there’s a responsible attitude. The legislation is about saving lives, not stopping people living.’ However, many companies are sure to rethink their use of potentially dangerous activities for executive bonding trips. ‘With extreme sports, it’s all about reducing the risk,’ says one source. ‘But you could be left in a ridiculous position – instead of white-water rafting, you’d be sitting in a millpond in a rowing boat.’ Luckily, the events industry has plenty of options that are less likely to make the company’s lawyers nervous: cookery classes, London taxi treasure hunts and murder mystery evenings, to name a few.
According to events company Inneventive, there has been a shift towards these more laidback pursuits. ‘It comes down to red tape and insurance issues,’ says acting head of teambuilding Chris Floyd. ‘But it’s also about trying to cater for everyone. With high-fizz activities you can alienate someone who’s pregnant or has a bad back from what’s supposed to be a teambuilding day.’
His colleague Nadina Mitchell thinks that with women holding more power in the events industry there’s less pressure to go for ‘macho’ options to please one or two gung-ho employees. ‘For example, our chocolate-making classes are more and more in demand, because they’re great for women,’ she says.
As the events industry has grown, so has demand for insurance; public liability cover is compulsory, but many businesses also consider property insurance (particularly worthwhile if you’ve hired £20,000 worth of marquees) and cancellation insurance. You should always get expert advice before choosing a policy, but here are some tips.
• Don’t assume you’re covered. Even if your company has existing insurance arrangements, check they cover events, particularly off-site. ‘Here’s a good rule of thumb,’ says Ed Pugh of Insurex. ‘If
you haven’t told your insurer about it, you’re not covered.’
• Think about insurance early and put it in the budget. ‘The risk starts when you start making financial commitments,’ says Brian Kirsch, MD of Event Assured. ‘And if you take out a policy later, you won’t get such good value for money.’
• There’s a first time for everything. Take the example of the CLA Game Fair, which managed without event insurance for 40 years. However, torrential rain last summer left the event ground water-logged and the fair had to be cancelled. What happened next? ‘A furore, and a financial loss that could have been avoided,’ says Kirsch.
• Expect the unexpected. It’s not just the obvious catastrophes – fire, speaker no-shows, terrorism – that make event insurance worth considering. What if a quarantine zone had to be set up because of a foot and mouth outbreak, for example? It’s unlikely, but potentially devastating.
• Read the small print. ‘Insurance is not a commodity,’ says Pugh. ‘Policies can be very different, so check the exclusions.’
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Spring 2008.