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IPM 11: Welfare for Workers: Work in progress

IPM's second panel explored the on-site and touring health of the international production industry, including food, nutrition and sleep

By IQ on 07 Mar 2018

IPM 11: Welfare for Workers: Work in progress

Returning to the conference programme after a short coffee break, the second panel of IPM 2018 discussed the welfare ­– or lack thereof – of event staff, particularly those working multi-day events such as festivals.

James Cobb of Crowd Connected reflected on the presentation on fatigue he gave at IPM 2013, which, he noted, showed that workers are “not getting enough food, enough sleep, and it’s killing people”. His recommendation five years ago was simple – to comply with the working time directive – but, seeing as “no one liked that answer”, this time around he suggested using technology to monitor how much sleep staff are getting.

While he acknowledged it “does sound a bit Big Brother, we’re all wearing Fitbits now anyway”, so bracelets that track sleeping patterns shouldn’t be too difficult to stomach.

Continuing on the theme of fatigue, Eat the Beat’s Mary Shelley-Smith highlighted the role proper nutrition plays in keeping energy levels high. “Well-fed people are happy people,” she explained. At the moment, workers at many festivals “don’t get enough calories, and that means they’re going to make poor decisions.”

Jon Drape of festival production company Ground Control said, as an industry, “how we look after workers on festival sites is probably getting worse, not better, and it’s having a material impact on how we deliver our shows.”

The biggest issue facing the sector, said Drape, is something discussed at IPM 10: a chronic lack of qualified security staff. “Part of that comes down the conditions on festival sites: of getting fed poorly, paid poorly, having to stay in poor accommodation,” he said. “There are a whole range of staff – whether they’re security staff or volunteers – who are being neglected.”

Shelley-Smith says the poor health of workers is exacerbated by the fact the industry is so reliant on the so-called ‘gig economy’. “Most people are self-employed,” she explained, “so many people want to work as many days as possible, which contributes to that fatigue.”

“There are a whole range of staff who are being neglected”

Peter van Galen of the Netherlands’ Earproof also emphasised the importance of taking care of one’s hearing. “In a loud-sound environment, your ears get tired as well, and you can end up losing concentration if your ears aren’t in good condition,” he explained.

“Everyone should wear hearing protection – and sound engineers, when they reach a certain age, should test their ears to see how they are functioning, as they work with very powerful equipment.”

Additionally, suggested Drape, there remains a “drink and drug culture” that permeates the industry, with people turning up for work drunk “and we’re asking them to drive a telehandler”. While Cobb countered that you “can’t control that [kind of behaviour] in any industry”, Drape maintained that “we need to change the culture of substance abuse and late-night drinking” in order to keep both staff and eventgoers safe.

Shelley-Smith said that “providing good facilities for everyone, and taking them off site, helps”, while audience member Roger Barrett, of Star Events, described how his company “did an interesting experiment: we put everybody into single rooms, and it absolutely transformed things.

“We found that if people are sharing they didn’t want to appear wimpy – so they didn’t do things they maybe wanted to do, like read a book, watch TV, et cetera, as they felt pressure to stay up all night drinking.”

While it proved effective, booking individual rooms for all workers obviously makes less sense commercially – particularly when Star has “competitors who are putting four people in a tent behind the stage”.

Ultimately, “we know what needs to be done,” he concluded – it’s just a question of whether event organisers are willing to stump up the money to do it.


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