Are Safety Advisory Groups (SAG) Being Misused?

Duncan White is part of Symphotech’s team of health and safety experts and has over 30 years of experience as a former fire officer with Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service. Duncan was chair of the Chief Fire Officers Association Event Safety Group and worked with the HSE to produce the fire safety chapters for the new Purple Guide. Here he discusses Safety Advisory Groups and explores if they’re being misused.

Event organisers (and more often than not their safety advisors) are facing an increasing demand on their time attending SAG meetings. It has been a number of years since I undertook my ‘Working in Safety Advisory Group’ training at the Emergency Planning College, so I recently took the time to undertake some CPD and look back through my course notes and refer to the guidance provided by the HSE.

The first thing I did was to look up the meaning of advisory, and according to Google this is ‘having or consisting in the power to make recommendations but not to take action enforcing them.’ Having refreshed my understanding of SAG, I reflected on my recent experiences of recent SAG meetings. The HSE guidance, in relation to the Purpose and Process of SAGs, contains some interesting information. The following brief extracts got me thinking;

1. They aim to help organisers
2. Encourage cooperation and coordination
3. Non-statutory bodies and so do not have legal powers or responsibilities
4. Not empowered to approve or prohibit events from taking place
5. Advice provided by the SAG and any decisions taken should be proportionate to the risk profile of the event
6. SAG should advise the event organiser about public safety matters that they think need further consideration

Given my personal experiences attending SAG, I am left to ponder whether some representatives from Responsible Authorities (RA) have ever referred to the HSE guidance or attended any formal training to equip them with the skills to carry out their role. My view is formed because on numerous occasions, the RA has used the SAG process to be anything but helpful.

Let’s not forget that on the majority of occasions SAG meetings are held after the formal licence process and with the licence having already been granted. Let’s refer back to items three and four above – Why is it that many RAs thinks that the SAG is part of the licensing process? Why do many RAs imply that the SAG can prevent an event from taking place?

The answer is because on the majority of occasions the event organiser doesn’t know enough about the licensing process or the role of a SAG. Many RAs play on this and try and railroad their own personal agendas and request things which they have no legislative authority to ask for.

I was taught at an early stage that an RA can’t ask for a condition to be placed on a premises licence for which they have enforcement responsibility under a separate piece of legislation. How many times have you seen a premises licence with conditions from RA which they are not legally entitled to ask for?

I suppose what I am asking for when writing this article is;

1. That RAs understand what a SAG is designed to achieve
2. That RAs provide representatives who are trained and aware of current legislations
3. Event organisers are encouraged to bring their events to your area and not put off by unnecessary obstacles and bureaucracy.

Our team of experts have huge experience advising clients in relation to licensing, fire safety and H&S and regularly accompany clients to SAG and licensing meetings to provide the necessary support through this often daunting process.