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Could you be caught out by unexpected behaviour? I was at a Business Networking event recently, listening to a very good speaker who gave an excellent talk on what might be loosely termed Motivation in Business.

At the end of the 45 minutes or so presentation, having been encouraging people to push themselves, to expand their comfort zones and be enthusiastic in their actions, she offered a free copy of her book. The book would go to the person who reached higher, the one that showed the most enthusiasm and desire to get that book.

Amongst the selection of up stretched arms, there were a small number that stood on their chairs, but one individual, clearly driven into a frenzy of desire for the publication, who leapt onto the table amongst the crockery and glassware whilst reaching for the heavens. Unexpected behaviour for those at the table.

Some quick reactions by a couple of people still seated (well not everyone wanted the book), steadied the table and somehow stopped it tipping the aforesaid individual into an ungainly mess on the floor, amongst a pile of broken crockery and glass where clearly a serious injury could have resulted. Not only to the individual, but to one of the others at the table.

What if this behaviour were in the workplace?

Lets take it away from the fact that we were individuals at a Business Networking event and imagine for a moment it was a corporate event being held purely for a company’s employees. Much of the scenario would be the same.

There would still be the Speaker; the company would most likely hold the event at a hotel or other ‘Corporate Business Centre’ who would have laid out the room, using typical ‘function tables’ and seating, and staff would be ‘motivated’. In fact, instead of a mere 45 minutes, they would almost certainly have experienced several hours of exposure to the offerings from the Speaker; thus a far greater exuberance could likely be experienced.

So our highly motivated individual makes their move; they don’t have the benefit of others steadying the table, they crash to the floor and experience a serious injury. Potentially even death may result.

So where might responsibility lie?

What Risk Assessment did the employer undertake for the event?

Is the Speaker known for energising their audience into potentially ‘foolhardy’ actions? After all, is that not why she has the booking; the ability to motivate and provoke exuberance?

Was it reasonably foreseeable that somebody might jump onto a table at the end of the event?

We might expect such behaviour on a drunken sports team tour or perhaps towards the end of a wedding, but at a corporate development event?

Should the Hotel have anticipated such misuse of their furniture?

Were the tables suitable for the event?

Were they correctly assembled, especially if they were collapsible/foldable ones?

Was crockery and glassware suitable adornment for the event tables, or should they have been cleared?

Should the Speaker have anticipated such blind focus and commitment to her words, where ‘common sense’ (that quality that is often quoted in hindsight) went out the window?

All these questions and more would get asked after an incident; but they would be asked by the Police or health and safety regulators, with a view to possible prosecutions.

If you organise events, are you thinking of how your attendees behaviour might change over time?

The secret to Good Health & Safety is looking at the bigger picture; to anticipate consequences of people’s actions and mitigate against them. Be proactive, not reactive; preventing accidents, not clearing up the mess afterwards.

Where might responsibility lie in this case?

Only the Courts could ultimately decide, based on the evidence before them, but as highlighted above, some aspects could be considered as reasonably foreseeable.

If the individual had any knowledge of the hospitality industry, he might have been less intent on jumping onto a round table draped in 2 tablecloths, since it might have been disguising a multitude of sins.

 

Bernard Carey is a Chartered Occupational Safety & Health Practitioner, specialising in providing practical and proportionate support to small businesses.