There’s no escaping doubt that organising any type of event, let alone an endurance race that can often push participants and officials to their limits, is an exercise fraught with risk.
Although you can never hope to eliminate risk from your race altogether, you should aim to understand it and mitigate it to an acceptable level. This is your legal and moral responsibility as organiser to your participants, staff, volunteers and attendees.
When it comes to managing risk the first and most important task is compiling a risk assessment. In the remainder of this post we discuss the makings of a good risk assessment, why you need one and how you should go about putting one together.
What is a risk assessment?
A risk assessment is an exploration of hazards that could be encountered by stakeholders in your race (participants, team members, volunteers and spectators), risks that arise as a result of exposure to those hazards and reasonable mitigants that can be put in place to alleviate those risks.
For example, you may consider the risk of injury people around the course may be exposed to from weather hazards, such as snow or rain, and actions you may take to help reduce that risk.
It is very important to keep in mind that risk assessment is a risk management, not a risk elimination, exercise. You are taking reasonable steps to identify and manage risks in activities that often involve degrees of intrinsic risk that cannot be eliminated.
Back to the example of weather hazards. It is hard to guarantee a slip will not occur in an outdoor event in the rain. However, it is possible to reduce the risk of injury by, for example, treating or signposting surfaces where the risk of slipping might be at its highest.
Why do I need a risk assessment?
There’s a number of reasons why you may want to carry out a risk assessment for your race:
- You believe safety comes first.
Most, if not all, race organisers do. There is nothing more important to improving your event’s safety than carrying out a thorough risk assessment. Because understanding risk is the first step to managing it effectively.
- Putting things on paper helps clarify your thinking.
Even if you think you have a risk assessment mapped out in your head, make the effort to lay your thoughts out on paper. You may be surprised to find some areas, such as risk mitigant ownership, less clear than you thought.
- It’s the best way to solicit expert input.
First aid crews, local volunteers, police and others have plenty of valuable input to offer to your risk management strategy. A risk assessment is the best place for that dialogue to take place.
- Your duty of care.
If you organise an event you have a legal duty of care towards participants, employees, volunteers and spectators. Not only will a risk assessment help you carry out your duty more effectively, it will also provide a formal record of your risk management efforts should the unforeseen occur.
- Obtaining permits, licences and insurance.
In many cases there will be a formal requirement for an event risk assessment in order to obtain race permits and public liability insurance.
Notice we’ve added permits and insurance last on the list of reasons why you should want to write a risk assessment. Whether you need a permit or not, our advice would be that you carry one out regardless. Once you do, you will convince yourself that the benefits of having one go well beyond formal requirements.
Writing a good risk assessment
A good risk assessment will need to be:
- Comprehensive. Your assessment should cover most or all hazards and reasonably foreseeable risks that may arise before, during and around your event.
- Current. Your assessment should be up-to-date with respect to event circumstances, course conditions etc. It should also incorporate any comments or feedback provided by your team and health & safety experts.
- Actionable. You risk assessment should clearly outline actions that need to be taken to mitigate risks, parties responsible for undertaking those actions and execution timetables, wherever necessary.
Structure of a risk assessment
There are no definitive formats for risk assessment reports. In this section we provide a layout that we feel ticks all the boxes.
You can find a copy of our risk assessment template discussed below in the Resources section at the end of the post, alongside other useful documents and reading materials.
Although not essential, we suggest that you include a header section to your risk assessment that will provide context for the main risk & mitigants discussion to follow. This section should not exceed 1-2 pages and include the following:
- General event information: name, date and location of the race and number of participants expected
- Course information: this is particularly pertinent to trail and adventure races and ultramarathons. You should include course length and elevation, a link to the course map, information on the types of terrain that is to be encountered, information on aid stations etc
- Event team information: names, roles and contact details for key team members, e.g. RD, deputy RD, race marshalls etc
- First aid arrangements: names, roles and contact details for your head of first aid/safety crews and other key first aid personnel. You can also include 2-3 sentences on the size, quality of force and deployment plan of first aid crews on race day.
- Volunteer force overview: names, roles and contact details of key volunteer team captains (e.g. aid station heads), accompanied by a short description of sizes and functions of volunteer teams.
- Community liaisons: names, roles and contact details of key liaisons in local communities, the police and emergency services.
- Communications/incident management plan: how do the various teams above (first aiders, volunteer captains, local liaisons) link up with your core team? Who does what when something goes wrong? Make sure you have a robust chain of communication
Risks & mitigants
This is the main section of your risk assessment. Here you will identify hazards, infer risks and come up with strategies to mitigate those risks.
It helps for this section to be laid out in table form. Each row in the table will run from hazard (left) through risks to mitigants (right). You should have at least the following four columns in each row:
- Hazard: a cause of risk or danger, e.g. rain, poor visibility or traffic
- Risk: what can go wrong as a result of the hazard you identified, e.g. getting lost or injured
- Party-at-risk: who is susceptible to this risk, e.g. start-line volunteers and participants
- Mitigants: all actions you want to take to mitigate the risk to a sufficiently low level, e.g. signposting, stationing additional volunteers in high-risk areas or making changes to the course. It is very important that you clearly identify an owner for each mitigant. An owner is a team head or other person who will be responsible for delivering the mitigating action. You should further ensure that person’s contact details are included in your header or appendix.
You can optionally include deadline and completion date columns to manage the delivery of your mitigating strategies. For complex events, it might also help to group hazards by category. Categories could include weather hazards, terrain hazards, fixed-structure and equipment hazards etc.
A few more things to remember in writing your risks & mitigants section:
- Make sure to get input, where appropriate, from key specialists, such as first-aiders, traffic police and others.
- If there are risks for which mitigating measures have already been taken, make sure to include them in your assessment for completeness.
- Have you thought about the hazard of participant overconfidence? Do you need to mitigate the risk of your participants putting themselves in danger through poor health or inexperience, for example, by requesting a health certificate or past racing credentials?
- Most important of all: use common sense in qualifying what risks are reasonable and when mitigating action may or may not be sufficient.
SEE ALSO: Race Insurance: Your Options
If there is additional information a reader might need without having to refer to other documents, you can add an Appendix section to your assessment. That additional information could be maps or other visuals, further key person contact details etc.
I’ve written my risk assessment. Now what?
After you’ve written your risk assessment, you should make sure you use it:
- Share it with relevant stakeholders (crew captains, first aiders etc) for feedback
- Keep referring back to it in the build-up to your race and after, amending or adding to it as necessary
- Revisit and refine it with each new race edition, making sure contact details and your assessment of risks are up-to-date
Below you can find a number of useful resources in writing your risk assessment:
- Our risk assessment template
- UK Athletics risk assessment guidance
- UK Athletics risk assessment template
- UK Athletics risk assessment for road races
- Road Runners Club of America guidelines for safe road and trail races
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