First Option: A Healthier Duty of Care for the Live Events

With the entertainment industry preparing for the return of live events, TPi’s Stew Hume chats to First Option’s Martin Barraclough about how the company hopes to aid in this revival – not just in terms of COVID-19 safety measures, but also pushing a healthier duty of care for the live events sector.

It’s hard to find a silver lining where COVID-19 is concerned, however, if the live events industry has gained anything from the pandemic, it’s been the chance to pause and consider health and safety regulations and duty of care for the hard-working crew behind tours, festivals and large-scale events. It is why we have seen collectives such as the Touring Production Group (TPG) form to help provide guidance alongside the Production Services Association (PSA), with the aim of preparing people for events in a COVID-19 world.

There have also been organisations outside of our industry providing services to those wishing to upskill and gain the necessary knowledge to be able to put on a live event competently and safely. First Option, although perhaps not as known in the touring sector, is regarded as one of the world’s largest safety consultants to the media and entertainment industry. Having specialised in TV and film, the company has provided support for a number of huge productions, from top dramas like Killing Eve to award-winning blockbusters such as Bohemian Rhapsody.

First Option has also had extensive experience in live events, including premieres, sporting events and festivals – particularly the broadcast element of festivals as apposed to live production. However, in this ever-changing world where the lines of broadcast and live are becoming increasingly blurred, the safety experts has expanded into the live events field. One way in which the company has done this is by employing a number of people from the live events sector to bolster their overall knowledge.

A familiar name within the live event circuit, Martin Barraclough has worked as a Safety Manager for DNG Production & Event Crew for a number of years. Having been heavily involved with the TPG throughout the pandemic, he moved over to work with First Option in July.

First Option’s Martin Barraclough.

“First Option was looking for a consultant based in Manchester,” he began, talking to TPi via Zoom as he took a break from a high end TV drama he is overseeing in Spain – his first abroad project this year. “I’ve been involved in the live events industry in one form or another for the past 20 years and, while I’ve specialised into this H&S role, it’s great to bring my knowledge of live events into an organisation such as First Option.”

Talking generally of the ever-closing gap between the broadcast and live sectors, he summarised how the two worlds could very much learn from one another. “We have always had those hybrid events – like the BRIT Awards – which are equal parts live and broadcast, but COVID-19 has certainly forced the two worlds to collide – the last MTV EMA’s being a prime example. There is an awful lot that the touring world could learn from TV and broadcast. For example, those organisers’ attitude to duty of care.” He carried on to explain that these type of organisations simply had more time and resources to develop codes of practice, but that First Option is now in a great position to take this knowledge and bring it into the live events sector.

Already assisting the events sector during the second lockdown and pre-vaccine period, First Option’s new Event COVID-19 Supervisor and Compliance Officer Advanced Level Training has been adapted from its highly successful TV and broadcast course to equip any crew able to work intermittently. The new sector-specific course incorporates procedures outlined in TPG’s COVID-19 Working Procedures Guidance – a pioneering set of guidelines that Barraclough was instrumental in producing.

The First Option guidance – which is affectionately referred to as The Yellow Book – has been produced by First Option’s in-house team of experts, including microbiologists, medical doctors, and chartered safety consultants. Alongside Vittorio Vanloo, fellow First Option colleague, Barraclough has been responsible for creating the content, along with the corresponding virtual courses that they now provide. “Together, we’ve produced intermediate and advanced-level training courses, which we’ve run a number of times during the past few months.”

The advanced training course comprises a five-hour Zoom call with an instructor, after which the participants receive The Yellow Book. “The courses that we have run so far have also had a strong Q&A element, so people are able to get out what they need for their particular profession,” Barraclough commented.

He also explained that as well as a multiple-choice test at the end of the presentation, participants in the advanced course are asked to create a COVID-19 risk assessment for a fictitious scenario. “This is not necessary because they will be asked to do this in their regular jobs, but more to give them a wider understanding of what these processes entail,” he explained, adding that the biggest success stories had come when event organisers had a 100% buy-in from the entire workforce.

The Event COVID-19 Supervisor and Compliance Officer Advanced Level Training has already received positive feedback from its first round of attendees. Touring Production Manager, Paddy Hocken [Biffy Clyro, Queen], was among the first to complete it.

“I got a lot out of this training, and believe the whole class did, too,” he commented. “It’s also great that it links back to the TPG’s detailed guidance. I would strongly recommend this course to anybody working in live events or concert touring in a senior role. Martin is exceptionally well placed to deliver this course.” Barraclough also explained how a number of those working on the recent MTV EMAs had also completed the training course.

With the training now in place, Barraclough speculated on the next few months for the live events industry. “With the prevalence of both streamed and virtual eSports, elite sport and business conferencing events underway, teamed with further uncertainty ahead, the training is already well-subscribed and I believe it’s something every live production can benefit from and be reassured by. Production personnel can add the implementation of these realistic COVID-19 procedures to their world-class production values.” With all that said, and perhaps as you might imagine for an expert in health and safety, Barraclough was also quick to err on the side of caution about the return to any sense of normality.

“Vaccines are set to roll out and, with infection rates falling in some areas, there is now scope to think about events, but, especially in the UK, we are still in the riskiest part of this second wave. Our goal has always been to produce guidance that adheres to the public health messaging and we never look to reinterpret or reinvent government guidance. We want to ensure that all people remain on the right side of the law.”

Giving his final thoughts for 2020, he concluded: “This year, the safety culture of companies has been laid bare. Our hope at First Option is that more organisers and stakeholders will see that safety guidance now feeds into everything they do. This goes beyond COVID-19 measures, but an overall duty of care for those working within the industry; the days of people being mentally broken at the end of tours needs to come to an end. First Option is ready to stand with the sector and help push those standards for people who want to also raise them.”

This article originally appeared in issue #256 of TPi, which you can read here.

  1. Event COVID-19 Supervisor / Compliance Officer Advanced Level Training (Online Course)
  2. COVID-19 Event Risk Awareness – Intermediate Level (Online Course)
  3. First Option Launches Event Industry COVID-19 Advanced Level Training blog.