Overseas risk management is 'a moral as well as practical issue'

21st May 2009

Health and safety regulations in the UK, while complicated, are clearly in place and there for businesses to follow.

However, when it comes to events organisation overseas, how do you address the problem of a lack of regulations and workers that are used to taking risks?

In the second of a three-part series on health and safety, risk assessment and management expert Simon Garrett talks about the potential pitfalls of running events and exhibitions abroad and the moral and social responsibility of companies from regulatory-based countries working overseas.

A former military man, Mr Garrett is now a qualified Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner, has produced a guide for working at UK exhibitions for members of the Association of Event Organisers, Association of Event Venues and Event Supplier and Services Association, and regularly gives lectures on health and safety to industry professionals.

Most recently, he has been developing an international guide and courses on risk assessment and management to take abroad.

He has been running seminars for organisers with international portfolios, which he says are keen to improve health and safety practices overseas and are aiming to collaborate over the issue.

Mr Garrett, who is managing director of risk management solutions firm X-Venture, explains that when it comes to countries within the European Union and North America, health and safety regulations are very similar to the UK.

Differences emerge outside these areas and are particularly pertinent in the BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China - which are growth markets for exhibitions at the moment.

"The problem you're dealing with in the developing countries is a cultural difference between what we would understand to be risk and what they would understand to be risk," he says.

"We're taking risk without knowing it and you can get very patchy standards. People also tend to think, where there are low standards then there's no legal implications.

"Although India has a health and safety at work act, its application is very limited. China, on the other hand, is beginning to take a more enforcement-based approach with punitive sanctions against managers who fail to manage risk.

"At a company level, you've got to take a view about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable about risk.

"Whereas you can't allow things to go on as they are, you've got to accept that in certain places you're going to be taking more risk that you would in the UK. My approach is there needs to be a policy that defines that tolerance of risk," he suggests.

Mr Garrett reveals that this is becoming a moral issue as well, with global corporations starting to self-regulate.

"There's a driver behind that which is that the consuming public globally is starting to have a much lower tolerance of organisations which take an exploitative approach. So it comes down to a worker rights, welfare-type issue," he insists.

One firm which is taking a stand on this issue and endeavouring to improve standards for workers when working abroad is Tarsus.

Claire Farrugia, operations manager at the company, explains that the organisation is engaged in risk management as well as consideration for workers' general wellbeing.

Tarsus has been involved in organising conferences and exhibitions in China and India and is aiming to educate local employees about health and safety, Ms Farrugia explains.

Mr Garrett adds that as well as it being a moral issue, companies also need to consider the monetary consequences of taking risks and getting it wrong.

"It can have serious financial implications not just because of the damage but also the reputational loss, business loss. If you're not able to put on a trade show because of an accident, that will reflect greatly on the company's ability to manage an event," he asserts.

Meanwhile, the question remains - how do you go about developing consistent guidance for health and safety?

Mr Garrett suggests that all major firms should have an executive that is in effect, if not in title, global head of risk.

He concludes: "My approach would be to develop a global approach to managing risk that puts in some basic goals for safety."