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Organising a public event is a considerable responsibility. There are a number of issues you need to think about, such as public safety, the risk of damage to property and the disruption your event may have on the local community. Effective planning will help to identify and eliminate or control hazards or risk.


What do I do now?

To organise an event successfully, it's important to:

  • make contact with your local authority Safety Advisory Group (SAG); it will provide you with useful advice and guidance about running and managing your event
  • start to prepare your event plan
  • obtain permission from the landowner of the event site, where necessary
  • make contact with highways authorities if your event takes place on the road, or will have an effect on the road and its users,. You will need to do this at least 4 months before your event takes place
  • start to consider how you will manage the safety of the people attending your event and the use of stewards and marshals
  • make yourself aware of the responsibilities of being the organiser of an event
  • make yourself aware of the role of the police at public events

What happens next?

Members of the safety advisory group (SAG) will consider the details of your event

The purpose of the SAG is to offer guidance in order to help organisers carry out their responsibilities. The group will consider plans presented by the organisers on the content and structure of the safety elements of the event.

It is not the role of the group to assist in the planning of the event or the writing of the plan. Neither will members of the group accept or adopt any of the responsibilities of the organiser.

A working or completed copy of your event plan should be sent, preferably electronically, to the chair of the relevant SAG for the area in which the event is to be held, who will distribute it to the group for its consideration.

These should be sent at least 16 weeks prior to the event date.

You may be invited to attend the SAG meeting to present your plan and to hear the joint views of the various interested statutory agencies.

Although all comments and observations made by the SAG are always advisory, they are made by professionals in the interest of public safety and should not be dismissed lightly. If you do not understand the reasons for the advice or do not agree with it, you should always discuss this with the group at the meeting.

Failure to follow advice from the SAG may affect your public liability insurance or licence permissions and leave you exposed to possible litigation.

Each local authority has a SAG that includes representatives from:

  • local authority        
  • police service
  • ambulance service
  • fire service

In addition the group may include:

  • the organisers
  • venue owners
  • transport operators
  • British Transport Police (if appropriate)
  • security and stewarding advisers (if appropriate)
  • voluntary groups, the military and other service providers

The SAG can assist in providing a ‘one stop’ approach to communication with all of the agencies that are likely to be involved in the planning, management or response to an emergency.

As part of the SAG process, the event organiser should also nominate an event safety officer.

The event safety officer (or his/her nominated deputy) should be contactable throughout the event and be available to liaise with the police when necessary.

If difficulty is experienced identifying a single point of contact for a SAG, then organisers can contact:


Start to prepare your event plan

Organisers of public events should prepare an event manual, based on the advice and guidance of  The Purple Guide to Health, Safety and Welfare at Music and Other Events or other event specific guidance document. This is a ‘living’ document and should be commenced as soon as planning for the event starts.

Organisers must approach their respective local Safety Advisory Group (SAG)  in relation to their individual event plans at least four months before their event is due to start, longer if there is any requirement for a road closure or other traffic management.

Effective planning is concerned with prevention through identifying, eliminating and controlling hazards and risks. The amount of time that needs to be set aside for planning will be very much dependent upon the size, type and duration of the event. For large events, experience shows that 6-9 months beforehand is not too early to start.

In all cases, accurate, early predictions of the type and number of participants are needed in order that the arrangements can be scaled accordingly.  Early advice and regular contact thereafter with the emergency services and other authorities will enable the organiser to make informed, appropriate and agreed arrangements in relation to traffic management, medical cover, stewarding arrangements and contingency plans.


If your event intends to make use of the road, the highways authority will assess your application

Event organisers should liaise with the relevant highway authorities to discuss the traffic management implications for any planned event.

Temporary road closures, traffic restrictions and alternative routes all require careful consideration. Depending on the scale of the event, this initial consultation may include representatives of the emergency services and take place through a Safety Advisory Group (SAG).

The traffic management plan should not include the use of police resources in order to control or direct traffic unless these are to be paid for by the event organiser.

Police resources will only be used to deal with spontaneous or emergency traffic incidents which may occur during the duration of an event. Once the incident has been resolved, the officers will resume their normal duties. If police resources are not pre-planned into the event, there may be delays in any subsequent response due to other operational incidents.


Consider what you need to do to ensure public safety

One of the main responsibilities of the organiser is to have concern for the safety of the public attending the event, as well as those who may in any way be affected by it.

This includes avoiding damage to property, fear or alarm to the public, minimising disruption to the local community and road users and ensuring that the human rights of persons are not infringed. 

Stewards and Marshals

A marshal is someone responsible for the safety and care of competitors and a steward is responsible for the safety and care of spectators.

An agreed plan for a public event, however good it may be, is of no value if there is no means of ensuring that the event takes place according to the plan. It is vital that the organisers keep control throughout the entire event.

This is normally achieved by using stewards who act as agents of the organisers to ensure that the participants adhere to what has been agreed. They must carry out decisions made by the organisers as the event proceeds, through a clearly defined chain of command. Their roles will also include the implementation of the event contingency plans, a set of plans and actions to cope with any likely occurrence, emergency or not, which may happen as a result of the event taking place (these plans must be compiled by an event organiser).

There must be sufficient stewards to communicate the organisers’ intentions and directions to all participants in the event.

The risk assessment will help you to establish the number of stewards necessary to manage the crowd safely.  When preparing your risk assessment for crowd management, carry out a comprehensive survey to assess the various parts of the site and consider the size and profile of the crowd.

Assessing the number of stewards on the risk assessment rather than on a precise mathematical formula will allow a full account to be taken of all relevant circumstances, including previous experience obtained from similar events at the same venue, for example.

To manage the crowd, ensure that your stewards are located at key points. 

Examples of some of the matters to be considered for the risk assessment include:

  • previous experience of specific behaviour associated with the performers
  • uneven ground, presence of obstacles etc. within or around the site affecting flow rates
  • length of perimeter fencing
  • type of stage barrier and any secondary barrier
  • provision of seating
  • emergency evacuation procedures
  • medical provision
  • contingency plans

The use of police officers to act as stewards will normally be discouraged by the police. If, in exceptional circumstances, authority is given to do so, the rate of charge will be on a full cost recovery basis.


Be aware of your responsibilities as the organiser

The organisation of a public event is a considerable responsibility and as well as attracting moral and social responsibilities, organisers have civil, common and criminal law responsibilities for which they may have to answer to the courts. Organisers may be liable for the consequences when things go wrong, particularly if there are defects in the planning or control of the event. 

This is more likely to happen if other interested parties are not consulted or if their advice or recommendations are ignored.

In general the public perception is that the police are the lead agency for approving all public events, including those which take place on the public highway. In reality the police have no authority to either approve or ban such events and, in fact, police powers to regulate traffic for planned events are extremely limited.

Furthermore, the police have no general duty to preserve public safety at any public event, except where there are imminent or likely threats to life.

Legal opinion suggests that the responsibility for public safety rests with the organisers of an event, the owners of the land on which it takes place and the local authority if the event takes place on a road. However, other persons or agencies who undertake actions regarding public safety at an event may assume a duty of care and, therefore, also become responsible

Guidance documents for the planning of events explain the responsibilities of both the organisers and the police at public events and suggest that these can be met through a partnership approach to event planning and management


Role of the police

Ensuring public safety at a public event is not the primary role of the Police, but is the responsibility of the event organiser.

The organisers’ responsibility for maintaining public safety can best be accomplished if there is no crime or disorder at the event.  Equally, the police role of preventing criminality and disorder can best be accomplished when public safety is assured.

Since these roles are clearly interdependent, it is in the interest of organisers, partner agencies and the Police to co-operate in regulating the event. The Police firmly believe that this partnership approach is the most effective way forward for all the parties involved.




Page last updated: 11 January 2018