STRESS AND FATIGUE AMONGST TOURING AND FESTIVAL CREW
Two words that are regularly on peoples lips in the world of event safety are stress and fatigue. If digital noise, work pressures and an always-on lifestyle start to get on top of you, or if you’re not receiving good enough support for your mental health needs, problems will soon develop.
The music industry certainly isn’t the only sector where these issues exist, but it’s a good thing that they’re being talked about more often: breaking down the stigma around discussing wellbeing and mental health.
Let’s look at each of them separately but we all know that fatigue can lead to stress so they are obviously connected.
In the last few years there have been a few too many suicides amongst touring crew and this alone is horrendous, there is hardly anyone in the professional touring crew world who has not been affected or has known someone who has sadly died and the cause has usually been stress in some form, it often goes hand in hand with depression and is a mental illness and thus carries the unwanted and unwarranted stigma with it.
Bereavement also carries its own problems that can affect one's mental state and the general stress involved with being a freelancer and running your own business is incredible, this can include financial problems, insecurity, the uncertainty, not knowing if and where the next job is going to come from, being away from home and family, illness, lack of work etc. and if you're not working, your not earning, more recently Covid19 has also been a major cause of stress, not necessarily the virus it's self but the fact it is potentially present all around us and has made isolation, lockdowns and disappearance of work the new normal, it has also caused huge problems financial especially for freelancers and the supply chains, and with that comes more stress.
Stress can lead to many other personal issues, lack of confidence and self-esteem, loneliness and possible reliance on cigarettes, drink or recreational drugs to help find a release or solace.
I know from personal experience just how debilitating stress and depression can be, lack of work, financial problems and major illness brought on the stress that quickly led to a depression that compounded the other problems for me and made me very dysfunctional and in a circle that was very hard to break.
Support from family, friends and work colleagues are so very important in this situation and the Government is now advocating Mental Health First Aiders should be in every workplace in just the same way as employers are already legally obliged to ensure ordinary first aid facilities are present in our workplaces, this may hopefully also become a legal requirement soon.
This is all well and good and I fully support this initiative but I was horrified to discover a trade association (within the entertainment and events sector) moaning and bitching about another trade association (also within the entertainment and events sector) supposedly pinching their the ideas etc for providing mental health first aid training for its members, its so petty and it does not matter whose idea it is as long as people benefit from it! Why some of these associations cant join forces on some of these initiatives such as training, insurance, welfare and benevolent funds is beyond me, they would do so much better with a larger and united voice or fund, perhaps the Event Industry Forum (EIF) is a suitable vehicle for this?
Thankfully, there is now a number of support organisations and providers of mental health first aid training including the Rethink Mental Illness Advice Line. Telephone: 0300 5000 927 (9.30 am - 4 pm Monday to Friday) and Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) at https://mhfaengland.org, and of course, the NHS.
I recommend getting trained and if you or somebody you know needs help get them to see their own GP or call one of these organisations. Nobody should be alone.
Fatigue appears to be a lot simpler, or is it? Fatigue is a general term used to describe a wide variety of conditions but is generally accepted as feeling very tired, weary or sleepy as a result of insufficient sleep, prolonged mental or physical work, or extended periods of stress or anxiety.
Boring or repetitive tasks can intensify feelings of fatigue. Fatigue can also be described as either acute (usually reversed by sleep and relaxation) or chronic (the constant, severe state of tiredness not relieved by rest).
There is a legal duty on employers to manage any risks from fatigue that arise from work. Fatigue needs to be managed, like any other hazard, through risk assessment and risk management. Simply complying with the Working Time Regulations alone is insufficient to manage the risks of fatigue.
Measuring fatigue levels is not easy as it varies from person to person; therefore, it is difficult to isolate the actual effect of fatigue on accident and injury rates in the business. However, some research studies have shown that when workers have slept for less than five hours before work or when workers have been awake for more than 16 hours, their chance of making mistakes at work due to fatigue are significantly increased. Further, reports indicate that most accidents occur when people are most likely to want sleep, i.e. between midnight and 6 am, and between 1 pm and 3 pm.
As with almost all safety issues, prevention is far better than trying to cure in every situation, fatigue can quickly lead to stress and mental health problems, being bad-tempered is one early symptom that can quickly damage harmony during a tour or long event. Just Google overtime working and see how many references there is too impaired safety after working just ten hours, it's comparable with being over the drink-drive limit, and that is with rest breaks. Now consider the effects of working 12, 14, 16, 18, 20> hours. Poor working conditions or on-site accommodation at a festival where the site crew are expected to live in tents with poor sanitation and very poor catering is common at festivals, the wages are often appalling, I have even seen adverts asking for experienced and qualified technical crew persons to work for nothing at a major festival! There is often a two-tier system with site crew receiving poor catering and facilities and technical crew receiving good quality catering with the artists and their crews.
The situation is getting worse, there is a shortage of SIA licenced staff and a shortage of experienced local stage crew (not site crew), in mid-summer with a couple of major festivals on the same weekend and a few large events in London etc. this situation can be impossible and the ones to suffer are again the crew that are present and have to work even harder for no extra pay to make up. The other issue is that the touring and festival production technicians and even production managers don't want to be seen or heard to be objecting to these dangerous work conditions or making a fuss of any kind as they don't want to be labelled as uncooperative or difficult in any kind of way as they still want and need to work. They are between a rock and a very hard place.
We do have the working time regulations that can help up us but they alone are not enough and promoters, managers and agents don’t really think (or want to think) of the time constraints on the crew and the fatigue problems (especially with "back to back" shows on large production tours) when they are booking tours or filling festival slots, they should carry out a simple mental risk assessment that if acted upon can remove many of these issues and the associated hazards but heaven forbid that safety is precedented over profits! The word back from major agents, managers and promoters via the ILMC (International Live Music Conference) are they are not prepared to take any action to help prevent stress and fatigue in touring crews and thus help to prevent deaths! Crews are now given the choice of working or not working, an option that usually leaves most freelancers no choice at all.
Working when you are tired impairs your judgment just like drinking, you’re not safe to work and mistakes are easily and quickly made. Fatigue is a foreseeable problem and their fore has to be risk assessed, safety controls must be put in place and budgeted for! Production managers can easily look at a schedule in advance and see the problem, the word NO should be used on these occasions but it’s a dilemma as you don’t want to upset your client but you also have your legal duties under health and safety regulations that if ignored could lead to heavy fines and/or a prison sentence. Ignorance is no excuse but I hear and see so many that just resign themselves to not being able to do anything about this problem, they also need the work and are not necessarily in a financial position to just walk away but when the chips are down, Management or Promotors will always make it the Production or Site Managers responsibility.
The ones who work hardest are often those in most need of help are usually the most exploited, those who are able to provide the simple cure for fatigue are unable or unwilling to provide the help or cure that is needed.