With heightened risk, we require heightened safety measures and strategies. In this episode of ‘Behind The Experience’ we take a look at how COVID-19 has impacted the health and safety approach to events and brand experiences. Our guest, Momtchill ‘Momo’ Vassilev walks us through the changing environment for event health and safety and shares his opinion of what the near future may hold for events in Australia.
Momo is an experienced Risk and Safety Manager with over 15 years continued service with Avert Assure. Lean in as we discuss how these new circumstances may impact our approach to events moving forward.
“...since awareness has grown, now the demand for planning documents such as risk assessments has increased, certainly exponentially...”
This is a part of our digital toolkit Sense Group is curating to help brands emerge from the crisis stronger than before. For more information and resources head to www.sensegroup.com.au
Learn more about Momo Vassilev and Avert Assure here:
Read the full interview below.
Thanks for tuning to Behind the Experience. I'm your host, Mark Bennedick, co-founder and director of Sense Group here in Sydney. And if you joined us on our last episode with behavioural scientist Kristen Berman you'll know that we're currently curating a COVID toolkit to help brands come out the other side of this crisis stronger than before with the power of brand experiences and events. So for more information on that, you can visit our website sensegroup.com.au, but look for today, today's guest is a very well known expert here in Sydney in the event and brand experience field.
Momo Vassilev is a very experienced risk and safety manager with over 15 years continued service with Avert Assure. Momo is very highly respected in the industry for his extensive safety risk management knowledge, his passionate approach to practical risk and safety management, and for building a collaborative safe culture. Welcome to the show, Momo.
Thank you, Mark. Thanks for having me.
Look Momo, for those people out there that don't know you or who haven't worked directly in the industry before, do you want to just tell us a little bit about your background and where you come from and the work that you do with Avert Assure?
Oh yes, sure. So I worked with the mother company before I started with Assure Avert, which is called ACES security and an opportunity came by in the early two thousands to get qualified and get into our safety wing, which is strongly focused on the events' industry. After doing some courses, I got the exposure to start working in the events industry, which initially was not easy. And from the first day I found that it does give its very specific challenges and demands, but it's been a pleasant journey for nearly 15 years, as you said.
Assure Avert works with any kind of events. So I've been involved with outdoor live music events, stadium shows, or outdoor festivals, corporate functions, motor racing elements and shows like Monster Jam and so on and so forth. The business has expanded as compliance requirements from event management and so on grows over the years. We initially worked with risk assessments on basic safety plans, and now approvals are required by emergency management, traffic management, specific crowd plans, and so on.
So things have become a bit more complex on the administration side of the planning for events, but that is in a nutshell.
Obviously the business itself has expanded into different areas, but have you seen over time risk and occupational health and safety become more prevalent in the event world? Is it something that people are taking a lot more seriously and dedicate a lot more time towards these days than they used to, say 15 years ago?
Yes, for me. They have a need. It's an interesting phenomenon that I've been observing. I wouldn't necessarily say it's linked to legislation. Although governments and regulators have changed legislation. Usually it's on a 10 year cyclic, that laws get updated on about 15 years. However, I wouldn't necessarily say it was driven by law, but it is definitely propagated. There's more awareness now as of the actual legal environment that people are operating.
And now it has become more prevalent as you said that since awareness has grown, now the demand for planning documents such as risk assessments has increased certainly exponentially. However, at the same time if there's no guarantee as of how clients look how people in the industry take these risk assessments, those documents, because within them there is advice that can actually change the way that things are done, but at the same time ... as you can imagine, there's never a guaranteed connection that we as the company can act as an auditor and pursue our clients to ensure that they've done every single thing that is prescribed, in a way that the onus is on the event manager to take some ownership of the event and actually see how they're going to manage it.
But it's definitely growing up. My last comment is more based on the volume of work we do rather than... I will not necessarily say that I'm suspicious or I doubt people's commitments to safety, but because of such huge volume of say risk assessments that we work with, it is hard to predict how many of them will be actually enacted or into to what extent.
Yes. Yeah. And that makes sense. I mean, I know as a company. In our company, we use you guys to do a lot of the risk assessment work for us, for the events that we do. And I guess for people listening, what you're saying is true, is you provide the recommendations and the framework for which a company like ourselves, as producers need to implement and make that an actual implemented mechanism within the projects that we're creating.
You're not there on the ground, although you potentially could be, but with us, from our experience, you're not there on the ground making sure we do what you've asked us to do. There is an onus on the production company to implement those recommendations. Isn't there?
Yeah, that's correct. I mean, to at least agree with your team, but I did have a little bit more exposure. With some clients, we do find the time or we kind of reach to meet or interact, or for someone from our company to come and visit one of your sites and whatnot. So with your team I have a little bit more interaction than with similar clients. So I would say my observations with your team is that they put a pretty, pretty decent effort to implement everything.
Plus, as you know, we work fairly regularly, but we're having terms with clients, which makes it a one-off event, or it's something that's for that particular event that has decided to engage us. And these are the ones that, although we put all efforts to explain and to prescribe and whatnot, it's still not certain. I'm not necessarily saying that it is an absolute must, but at the same time, as I said, we are based on practical solutions and on actual safe outcomes. So if in an instance, the event manager just asked for the grading, almost every single line item in that document or dismissing, then obviously, there will not be much of a change at the other end.
Yeah, definitely. Look, I'll get into maybe some of the more specific thoughts that we have around COVID and how that might change the way people think about events in the future. But I thought it would've been interesting just to go back and thinking back in your career. And obviously on the website, you've got some really huge events there, things like Taylor Swift concerts and ACDC and Ed Sheeran concerts, right down to the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour and sculptures by the sea, the NRL grand final. There are some really huge events there. What are some of the events that stick out in your mind from ones that have been great to be involved with, or even maybe things that did go wrong? An interesting experience that you might've had working in your field.
Well, I mean over 15 years I've been doing it full time and living it every day. There's a fair bit to go back over. As far as events are concerned, my very intimate and interesting memories, that are imprinted forever... basically, what you mentioned with ACDC. As far as the live music acts are concerned in stadiums, two of my best experience was with ACDC and Sir Paul McCartney.
The Sydney show was with ACDC Black Ice [inaudible 00:09:10] and the Paul McCartney one at AAMI Park in Melbourne, being that over the years, I've developed iron and a ear for the show format. So the ACDC band and Paul McCartney both had a very good package of the show, all together, being audio, lighting, special effects, stage design, stage decks, and the obvious or the bands themselves.
Although I've seen many music acts with Pearl Jam and so on, these two were... everything was actually complimenting everything. So as a package, they were very, very strong... as an actual product. As far as unique events are concerned, they have safety challenges as well. I've had and still have a relationship with failed entertainments... US, which own the Monster Jam brand. So these are non-American monster trucks. This is a touring event that basically does about 150 - used to, obviously, pre-COVID, used to do 150 countries a year.
So they will have a touring show from Stockholm in Sweden to Costa Rica, to Melbourne in Australia concurrently. So motorsports, heavy-duty equipment, very quick turnaround. So everything gets put together in a week. And the other format, which was quite unique is there was a one-off production between ANZ Stadium and Stade de France in France which was called [inaudible].
So it was essentially a reenactment of many of the episodes. So to make a movie, but on the grand scale, the stadium being, the stadium pitch was covered with crushed brick and we had the chariots race around, and the slave ship with the slaves rowing a song.
Wow, that's cool.
But as far as the experiences are concerned, these are two big ones in terms of planning. So say for [inaudible 00:11:31], for example, the critical show component was to have forklift operators driving during the show, night after night after night... driving into the field. And a particular model of a telehandler machine was used and certified to make parts of the galley ship for the scene. So sort of the big argument there was the people who had the expertise to do this work were French teams because the show was put by Stade de France in Paris.
The big stumble there was compliance because, although it's part of the show, these people were supposed to operate an industrial machine, which in our Australian world is strictly regulated. So the only way to do this was to get these French people to actually do the course. So they arrived a little bit earlier and we put them on our course and they actually did a very quick crash course in Australia, but they did it legitimately and was certified to our rules and were allowed to join.
On the other hand, say with the Monster Jam show format, a practical solution as I said, but in that particular one, there's a fair bit of interaction between very big machines, including earthmoving machines, bulldozers, and so on and people. So a lot of what's being done there was in theory administrative, but because of the safety culture and the fact that people stuck with it and adhered to it and complied with it for many years now, it has actually been effective. And that is very particular rules about separation between people and machines in all stages.
So during the bumping, during the shows, and so on. In practice and theory, it usually doesn't work because you expect workers and others to do the right thing. But in that instance, there was some reliability and some monitoring. In that it does work because it was an overall culture of very good discipline. Yeah.
So these kind of guys which are doing night after night shows around the world, it's big business and there's a lot of logistics going on in the background. How do you think these companies are? And have you been speaking to these kinds of companies? I'd be interested to get your thoughts on, how are these guys planning for the future? Because these large scale shows are probably going to be, I imagine one of the last types of events to come back into existence. Again, with social distancing rules and the numbers of people allowed in a certain one area at a certain time, how are these guys sort of dealing with the challenges at the moment, of when they think they can get back to business?
Look, it is a difficult question to answer because, as you can imagine, with COVID and our events industry, we were very heavily impacted. So a lot of the changes that have been made and decisions that have been made in many businesses related to the events' industry were first very critical for the business and were taken on a very high level. As far as say some of our American clients that come to us are concerned, I wouldn't have to speculate because the decisions that are taken on there are basically pretty much on apex level, on our board of directors on its own.
So my context is mainly being with high ranking touring, and global touring and whatnot managers, but even they themselves are not completely in the clear because of the decisions they're taking right up in the boardroom. What I know from the outdoor is that the impact was very high. So European... I had some interaction with some of my colleagues in Poland last week. Poland for example had a very, very strong events' industry, particularly outdoor festivals in the summer.
They were working on the format of their heads, on average of 90 festivals in the summer of the size of our big day out, back in the days. So there was about three, four festivals every weekend on top of each other. Probably about 70% of the events companies, so service providers like lighting, audio, whatever could pretty much shut shop, gone in liquidation. Some of the most highly regarded event people were discussing now whether the Dutch event industry will be able to recover now. I know some American operators have downsized by about 90%, as of laid-off people or stood down stuff... These actions were taken across the board. So we're not talking on grassroots workers, but all the way, including some of the presidents and vice presidents of divisions and so on for the bigger structures, across the board.
Yeah. Yeah, look it is a crazy time, isn't it? It's impacting these guys at a very deep level. I mean, there's not much a business can do if there is no revenue available for a particular industry. There's not much you can do about it. Is there? I mean, some of these guys, do you think they are in the process of planning towards a post COVID approach or do you think they're just sitting and relaxing at the moment?
I think they are planning. I mean, I'll have to keep things discrete, but I kind of kept communications with government representatives in Australia, for example, in our state in New South Wales, that a lot of events are now being discussed actively and the fact that bigger events that we have in Sydney. As you know, Vivid was cancelled for this year for sure.
Certainly people that are being away, our colleagues, it might be government employees but their job is also events. They are definitely looking at basically styling and planning for the future. A lot of events are being conceptualised. A lot of what's going on at the moment. I have worked over the last few weeks on this. As you know, the early planning stages, but for a lot of events, the concept work and the sound, the theoretical notions and whatever can be run out in advance.
So there's a lot of consultation going on and whatnot for events the future. In my view, with humans being social creatures, we can not have events, the million-dollar question will be, in what form they'll return. I do believe in nature, even in human structures and functions. So I believe society and our industry will basically find its way. I don't believe anyone would necessarily lead the way. Actually, the government, obviously, because they're the ones that actually regulate things.
But I do believe events will happen again. At the moment, the question is when, and I compare our state government, our Australian government... federal, and I could... I'm volunteering in some European and some us States actions. And in terms of timeframe, somewhere, their goal at the moment for many Europeans, they aim to open. Some of them have started already opening up on social sections, but I would say for events, it's very hard for them, whether it will be July, whether August, whether September, whether October, and whatnot. But I would believe that it is highly unlikely that we would not have events before the New Years Eve.
Okay. Well, that's an interesting point. I mean, I think we probably have a similar mindset that, I think in our minds, working from a very conservative position, we have factored that 2020 is almost a write off in terms of the industry. If we can get some events in the 2020 calendar year, then I think that we'd consider that almost a bonus from our point of view.
And then in terms of ... I mean, the other thing we have in our minds as a company is bringing people back to live events. There might be a job to do there to assure audiences that it is safe for them to do so. I'm talking to a lot of chief marketing officers at companies, particularly in the corporate world or within corporate events and something that does seem to be top of mind and coming up time and time again is that they do need to provide a duty of care to their audiences and make sure that they feel safe in actually attending their event.
They don't want to be the next company or event responsible for a cluster of infections that might arise. Are there things in your mind that you've been looking at? And I imagine you've been probably learning a whole lot of new information with lots of new legislation coming on board recently. Are there some key areas that you think need to be thought about post-COVID as to how we create events? Is it about social distancing measures? Is it about having occupational health and safety officers on site all the time monitoring the way things are being done? I mean, what are some of the key things that you think these guys need to be thinking about? That we can help our clients think about towards global events.
Yes for sure.
As I mentioned, as a key message, I've been monitoring, I've been reading a lot of publications, particularly focused on the COVID affair, but even if we zoom out of COVID, basically a virus that went global. So in any such scenario, one important lesson from this is that this might repeat as of not necessarily COVID, but now as many people thought that potentially things can not go that bad or particularly something like this can not have such an impact on our industry, then now we know that it can.
Yes, it definitely can.
But the two core elements that are coming from everywhere. I looked. It's basically two. One of them is the crowd capacity as of the patron capacity, which is as you said, the social distancing element. And then the other one is hygiene. Then sanitisation is on. The reason I put hygiene on the second point is because I don't believe that we've been performing poorly in Australia. And so we have good hygiene standards or good amenities, and so on food preparation.
So I believe the social distancing is the one that has the impact because social distancing obviously, at the moment we still have certain restrictions. But let's say you open events, the current rules in New South Wales, but they're pretty much national, and we're still stuck with the 1.5 meters between people.
Let's say our new South Wales workplace regulates and so forth. They advise also that for workers at the workplace, they shouldn't socialize in groups of more than two. So let's say if you have a factory and whatever the case, and have the workers when they go on a break or whatnot, or the smoko as they call it, there should be no more than two workers together, still 1.5 meters apart. So if you projected that all on to events... if you are targeting an event patronage, you would say 500 or a thousand people, then obviously with the pure spatial situation turn around, that's if you are planning an event of a thousand people, then you need 4,000 square meters because the current tools are saying that you must get one person per four square meters. So it's a full fold effect.
So our typical event industry format... one person per one square meter is a very, very comfortable density. Then you have two people and so on. This actually reverses the scale and it goes that you can only put one human being in four square meters. As a practical example, if you have a function for a thousand people, even without considering your infrastructure for the event or bars or whatever, to meet the current requirements, you're better off putting them in the holding pavilion which has the capacity of over 5000 in order to meet that rule.
So it's going to really affect obviously crowd sizes within spaces, which is going to affect the experience, be it a concert or a corporate event, or if you're in a venue. And then I guess as well, the idea of... things that come to mind when I think about that, is clients are going to be thinking how much return on investment are we're going to be getting from this particular event when we can have a smaller patronage or a smaller audience, plus at the same time having to balance that out against a larger venue, because obviously no one wants to spend more money than it's necessary on a larger venue than is required.
But that's also highly impacts the experience of that person in the event. I think particularly about things like concerts, where the energy of a crowd and being within a crowd fairly tightly knit is part of that experience. So it's going to really put a lot of emphasis on people like us, I guess, when we're dealing with our clients to try and come up with ways in which we can still create that emotional connection with people and brands, particularly.
They're talking about trying to achieve objectives with these events. How do we still achieve these objectives through connection? It's going to be a real challenge. I think it's going to affect the format of events, and the way in which we do things quite profoundly in the short term until that potentially changes.
Have you been hearing around the traps how much that role will apply to events, the four square meters, or will that come down at any time or stage in the future? Or do you think that's the way it is for now? In the foreseeable future.
I would say it's in the foreseeable. I mean there's no indication whether it will be sustained or not, but essentially that's the current format and it is not a pleasant one. But yet again, it's not catastrophic if events... as you've said, there will be challenges, but as long as events open up and we can actually put people together, we need to start. But yeah, it's the thing in the moment, it's not very clear whether they'll sustain it.
Challenges will be there, but as you said, that's a very good comment. That's how I see it. If you go one person per four square meters, you immediately arrive at the challenge with venue size and so on. Return on investment, as you said, then immediately the concept comes well, aren't we better off if we have a target audience X to really work hard on an online platform and do some kind of an online party or something, rather than hiring a physical venue and doing it the traditional way. I believe that just based on... and perhaps for our industry's case forward, perhaps if these rules do continue, we will end up either naturally observing some social phenomenon of our event patrons breaching that rules, or possibly we can have some specialists in social psychology and whatever step in and say, "Look, we have to change this because it's actually now having an observable impact on people's minds."
At the moment, I believe it's manageable but as you said, for the public events of the scale of say New Year’s Eve in Sydney, or Vivid or whatnot, I believe it's quite bearable because what has to happen, they use very simple crowd control and panning to meet the tool. So once the capacity is given, and we already know the capacities of men in public areas in Sydney, all we do is just downsize how many people are allow in. And then help people interact within that space. We're not robots and you can't really police that as much, but it's definitely becoming ... would have an impact on the corporate events. But yet again, we got to consider the source. These distancing conditions and so on are all based on the COVID threats and the way it was analyzed, the way that its impact was analyzed.
So as the COVID threat goes down, lowers it will be hard to continue to hold the argument for the social distancing. So I believe as the echoes diffuse, not only in Australia, but around the world, one would hope that the argument for these restrictions and the social distancing will also start getting weaker and weaker. So we can hopefully go back to absolute normal. What will happen? That's obviously what the basic lessons are. We have to have the hand sanitizers, the more frequent amenities, checks and cleanups and whatnot, and these obvious things. But as I said before, I don't think Australia would be doing too bad with hygiene. We just have to be seen to do more for the patrons and so on. But my few days that a lot of people, especially the broader public will be very keen to hear that.
Yeah, look, I think you're on the money there. Exactly. I think there are processes that get put in place with events that are already there it's an adjustment to some of the new rulings. So it's not like we're creating a whole lot of work out of nothing. We're very used to implementing these kinds of things already. It just changes the game a little bit. So if people wanted to work with you in the future and work with Avert Risk and Avert Assure, what's the best way to contact you?
We are reachable through our website, which is a avert risk and assure safety. It's very easy to find. I mean, we don't have any other names or competitors with names that are close to. Our main service for Avert Risk is just simply called firstname.lastname@example.org. It is a team of us. I am the one that is more senior, worked for the longest, I do also have peers and colleagues that work me like Simon Clark and a few others. Then also, I often discuss the industry and so on with one of our directors, Sandra, who is very well known in the industry. So yeah, my personal email is email@example.com, just in small case. Anyone that wants to reach out, they can find this on the website.
Well, look Momo, thank you very much for joining me today on this. It's a great thing for us to be talking about at the moment. Not something that people generally see at events, but there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make sure that they are in safe places to be to experience and enjoy. So I really appreciate the time this morning and put some of your thoughts towards some of this COVID toolkit that we're building online for event professionals and for brands to help understand how to deal with this as we come through it. So for people out there, be sure to check out that online resource, which can be found through our website, which is sensegroup.com.au, and we'll provide the links in the show notes for the podcast and look, stay safe. Stay connected. Momo, thanks again. And we'll see you next time on behind the experience.