Developing a risk assessment in preparing for any event can prevent negative impacts to public safety and the event site, and as has been highlighted recently, may be an essential ingredient in receiving event approval, regardless of the event’s cause. As The Guardian reported, a conference to share findings relating to the horrific January murders of Charlie Hedbo staff in Paris was planned to take place at the Queen’s University in Belfast in June 2015. Organised by the Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities, a range of journalists, novelists, academics and commentators had been invited to speak at the Charlie Hedbo Research Symposium, however the university’s vice-chancellor Patrick Johnston informed conference convenors that the event was to be cancelled as a result of an absent risk assessment. The decision to cancel the Symposium on April 20 was not well-received by prospective attendees at the college, who raised the possibility that the cancellation was a move to prevent deterring Islamic investment in the University, as the Washington Post reported. This suggestion was echoed amongst academic and journalist circles across Belfast, one of whom - a writer for Charlie Hedbo - saying that the cancellation represented part of a “long defeat in an unfought war”. In the sense that security fears might prevent a discussion on the freedom of speech, this raises an interesting point.
In a fast turnaround, the University reversed its cancellation on May 1, with an official spokesperson stating that a comprehensive risk assessment had been developed since the initial cancellation. Delegates appear to be satisfied with this change, citing the reign of academic freedom. As The Guardian reported, Patrick Johnston stated that the University “will remain a place where difficult issues can be discussed”, and appropriate risk management informed the change in decision.
Australian health and safety legislation and internal policies require event organisers to take reasonable steps to meet their duty of care to attendees; a risk assessment can help to identify and document potential hazards and controls. However, while not necessarily prescribed in law, the image and reputational risks associated with some events may also be an important consideration in hosting events.