Tragedy offers lessons for event organisers managing volunteers

In the UK there is a positive tradition of examining and learning from tragic events. From the 1971 Ibrox disaster to the Taylor report on stadium safety following Bradford and Hillsborough, each event is memorable, partly due to the tragic results, but also because they created opportunities to learn and make big steps to improve the safety of our sporting passions.

1 December 2017

The summer of 2017 saw a first for Scottish court proceedings, and for sport in the UK, with the holding of the joint fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the deaths of four motor sport fans – Joy Robson, Iain Provan, Elizabeth Allan, and Leigh Stern. Held at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, the FAI was convened in order to carefully consider the circumstances surrounding one fatality (Robson) that occurred in 2013 at the Snowman Rally, as well as three fatalities that occurred just one year later at the 2014 Jim Clark Rally (JCR).

Two main themes can be taken from Sheriff Maciver’s determination and recommendations – how can an organising committee properly control and supervise the event; and how can an event be effectively (and safely) run with the assistance of volunteers?  In making 13 recommendations, the Sheriff placed emphasis on the training of volunteer marshals at events. Any sporting or other event which relies on volunteer marshals for ‘on the ground’ spectator control will likewise need to carefully consider whether a structured training programme should be introduced. The FAI determination carefully explained that no one person or decision was responsible for the JCR fatalities. However, the Sheriff detailed a chain of small failures and errors that created what he called a “perfect storm progression” resulting in spectator injuries being almost inevitable.  All event organisers need to be aware of the potential for apparently small oversights or errors by dedicated and experienced volunteers to compound and create the potential for tragedy.  For a detailed analysis, please download our full briefing

The determination issued by Sheriff Maciver is thorough and thoughtful.  The lessons learned from those accidents, and the FAI recommendations, should be essential reading for all involved in the running of a sporting event.  That is especially so where volunteers are concerned with event and spectator safety.