What does ‘industry standard’ really mean, why do we need standards and how can we
uphold them, especially when the going gets tough? Andrew Harrison, director of
the Events Supplier and Services Association (ESSA) asks...
Whichever area of the industry you work in, if I was to ask you how trade was, I think I know
what the answer would be.
Events have returned with a vengeance, and it seems that everyone wants everything
yesterday. While the events boom is good news for a sector which was significantly
hampered by restrictions and lockdowns for the past two years, it also presents many
One such challenge is maintaining high standards when under pressure. Shorter lead times,
staffing issues and demanding, albeit well-meaning, clients mean planners may have less
time to carry out their usual due diligence on services and suppliers.
Of course, if an event is delivered, there are no hiccups and the client is happy, you might
question the need to adhere to high standards but what happens if things go wrong, and you
can’t prove competency in the way that legislation would require? Here’s why I think we allneed to take a standards-led approach to the way we do business.
Why do standards matter?
In my world, there are two types of standards: the minimum legal standards set by
enforcement bodies such as the HSE and then our own standards that we set ourselves as
individuals and businesses. We might also refer to them as values.
They are intertwined but for the benefit of this article, I am concentrating on legal standards.
Standards matter in order to set a benchmark for the expected level of best practise people
and companies should work to. They also have a habit of protecting those we work with and
for and the general public around us. In certain scenarios, working to and being able to
prove this competency is essential and should never be overlooked.
ESSA members have been on board with this notion for some time and continually discuss
how they can drive up standards to ensure that everyone – from their own workforce to the
visitors attending an exhibition – is kept safe. This led to ESSA launching ESSA Accredited –
an independent annual audit carried out on our supplier and service provider members,
which measures them against a stringent criteria of health and safety standards.
The existence of such a scheme has many benefits, it means that our members instantly
buy into raising - and maintaining – standards and it also means that those choosing to work
with them feel confident that these businesses care about health and safety which ultimately
delivers the best experience for all. Most of all, it provides demonstrable proof of
competency, an often misunderstood word in our industry and what it means to all
stakeholders and their own legal obligations.
Those signing up as members also know they are judged by the same criteria as other
member suppliers, which creates a level playing field.
These benchmarks for businesses also have a broader impact as they help set an industry
standard which makes attaining competency easier.
What is equally as important to attaining certain standards is how other groups in the
industry such as exhibitors, organisers and venues themselves assess the competency of
those that work for them, on their show floors and within their venues.
ESSA Accredited only applies to companies operating in the supplier sector of the industry however, the truth is that it is the role of venues, organisers, suppliers, exhibitors, trad bodies and our shared customers to ensure that professional standards are upheld maintained and adhered to.
Indeed, some believe it is just suppliers who face the most scrutiny when it comes to attaining certain standards and being able to prove them, but if we do want to see standard raised across the industry and deliver the best for all our clients, then a similar practic needs to be adopted by the wider industry. But is one reason for a reluctance to do so because it will reveal an industry that is driven too much by price, possibly a can of worms we do not want to open?
Standards matter in every part of the chain so if you believe you are doing the best for you business and your clients, you need to look at how YOU are monitoring standards and competency within your company and consider if your practices meet the minimum lega requirement by asking yourself what standards you are holding yourself - and others - to.
Setting and maintaining standards is not a tick box exercise. Standards only become set and
upheld if they are set in the first place and then constantly monitored and questioned. But who is looking after and policing these and do you know your own legal responsibilities within this area, do your clients know? If, as a collective industry, we are to permanently raise standards, it is vital that each one of us knows and understands the standards we should be holding ourselves to. The bottom line is that it’s everyone’s responsibility and the buck needs to stop being passed between us.
At ESSA we provide consultancy and lead and push our members to be the best they can be, with health and safety as the driver. In the past, there were calls from across the industry to raise standards and provide assurance, so we listened and delivered and we continue to monitor and question the standards we set and ensure they work for our members and the wider industry.
Setting and monitoring standards is one thing of course, but how do we uphold those we’ve appointed ourselves and the wider industry especially when times are tough? Holding central records could be one answer.
I believe we need a serious talk as an industry in all these areas. We are a safe industry, an industry full of professionals working relentlessly against the clock to make amazing things
happen. But can we answer enough of these tough questions above and if we can’t, does it
hold us back?
Andrew Harrison, director of the Events Supplier and
Services Association (ESSA).