Major sporting events at large venues present a myriad of risks to the participants, spectators and workers. It is critical to conduct a professional risk assessment to identify potential risks as well as a comprehensive risk management program to mitigate risks and respond to incidents.
The risk of accidents at the Winter Olympic Games is inherently much higher than other events due to the very nature of the sport. While good risk management planning will help minimise incidents, it’s impossible to make events and venues risk-free.
Driver error was determined as the main cause of the death of the Georgian luge competitor, Nodar Kumaritashvili following an investigation into the accident. However, the monotonous regularity of overturning sleds during competition due to the difficult nature of the track at the Whistler Sliding Centre does suggest that there are possible design issues also at play here. It was reported that following the accident involving the Georgian competitor, additional protective padding was installed along some areas affected. In safety risk terms this represents personal protective equipment (PPE) which is the lowest level of safety control. Engineering solutions through design have a far greater chance of being effective in controlling safety hazards. These are examples of applying the ‘hierarchy of controls,’ which are important principles in managing safety risk.
Despite rigorous risk assessment and risk management planning, there are likely to be incidents involving spectators, contractors, volunteers and staff during any major event. This was the case during both the Sydney Olympics and Salt Lake City Games. However, considering the millions of people involved in such events and the purpose-built venues, the rate of incidents is usually quite low.
For a Winter Olympic Games, the weather conditions and terrain do present considerable risk not only to athletes but to the workforce. In Salt Lake City during the 2002 Games, the most hazardous workplace was that of the course marshals who worked at the downhill and slalom venue. Once the course had been roughly prepared by groomers, it was then prepared by hand (and by ski). The course marshals at major international ski events are usually expert skiers with significant racing experience. However, in Salt Lake many of these people suffered knee ligament injuries from either incidents on the mountain or through the exacerbation of pre-existing conditions. This emphasises the importance of pre-employment medicals to identify pre-existing medical conditions; risk waivers to transfer some of the liability back onto the workforce; and strong training and supervision programs to ensure all staff are fit for the purpose and can maintain good work practices.
Workers’ compensation insurance can provide some level of medical and financial support for injuries sustained by staff, as can some personal accident policies for volunteers.