For music-lovers around Australia, summer means festival season. Few things are as memorable as watching your favourite artist perform on a sunny afternoon, or setting up camp with your friends for a weekend-long celebration of music and culture. But, as we see all too often, things can turn dangerous when such large crowds gather in one place.
An horrific ‘crowd crush’ at the 2021 Astroworld Festival in Texas left ten young people dead, raising questions about whether crowd control measures, security and policing were adequate. In June 2023, rapper Travis Scott and festival organisers were clearing of facing criminal charges over the crush.
Closer to home, a frightening ‘crowd crush’ at the 2016 Falls Festival left more than 80 people injured, and a lack of traffic management at the 2023 Beyond the Valley festival saw attendees forced to sit in their cars for nine hours in the scorching heat while queuing for a single exit.
Dimi Ioannou, Principal Lawyer and National Head of Public Liability and Consumer Protection, explains what measures should be in place to protect people at public events, who is responsible for health and safety, and who is liable if something goes wrong.
Responsibility for safety at public events can fall on a number of different people or organisations.
Event organisers, security companies and contractors who set up the event may all share a duty of care to ensure the safety of patrons.
Organisers are responsible for making sure appropriate steps are taken to minimise risks to the public and provide a safe environment for performers, workers and attendees.
Guidelines differ from state to state, but generally, before an event gets the go-ahead organisers must have:
This emergency plan usually includes information about who is in charge in the event of an emergency, what medical facilities are on stand-by, staffing levels, plans for crowd management and details about the venue capacity and layout.
Organisers will have to coordinate with emergency services and other local government agencies.
It depends – the venue owner/occupiers, event organisers, private security companies, contractors… it can be a combination.
For example, security should monitor crowd control and keep a look out for problems, such as too many people funnelling in one spot.
But they may be relying on barriers or fencing to keep crowds contained. This also illustrates the importance of erecting adequate fencing to avoid overcrowding in certain areas at public events.
If they fail due to a contractor using inferior equipment or not following specifications, it can lead to serious public safety issues.
Large events tend to be complex. When something goes wrong, there can be more than one organisation at fault.
If you are injured at a festival, you should:
Event organisers have a 'duty of care' to ensure the safety of all people in their space. If you are injured at an event due to the negligence of the event organisers (or other people responsible for public safety), you may be eligible for compensation.
There are strict time limits for these types of claims, so it’s important to seek legal advice as soon as possible.
If you have been injured at a festival, or another public event, contact us to speak with one of our experienced public liability lawyers about your rights and entitlements, and how we can help you navigate the claim process.