Arsenal Football Club dates back to 1886, when a group of workers from an ammunitions armoury in Woolwich formed a football team and called themselves Dial Square, on account of a sun dial at the entrance to the factory.
This legacy is reflected by the symbol of the club, a cannon, which features not only on the club facilities and merchandise but also on the stands. In 1913, Arsenal moved to Highbury, and 10 years ago, it relocated again to its current home, the Emirates stadium.
“The stadium holds around 60,300 seats and every game is a sell-out show, so it’s a very busy place to work,” says Spencer Lee. “The company employs approximately 500 staff. In addition, it has a number of associated enterprises and three retail outlets, with staff involved in a variety of retail programmes. We also have over 2,000 contractors on site on a match day.
“We employ 1,500 caterers, many programme sellers, around 300 cleaners and 150 St John’s Ambulance volunteers, in addition to four crowd doctors, who look after the supporters. There is also the backroom team staff, who come in from the training ground.
We work closely with London Fire Brigade as well as the Metropolitan Police and London Ambulance Service. My role is to underpin the overall operation with regard to occupational health and safety and facilities safety. I sit in the background of all of that and just wait to see if all our work in the terms of preparation has paid off.
“In an ordinary company, health and safety staff would conduct their roles between 9am and 5pm and then go home. Here, we have this extra challenge called football and it certainly eats into the day job. Here, football comes first – it is our core business objective. If the players cannot put the ball in the back of the net and we don’t have the place ready for them to demonstrate their craft, there’s no club and therefore no safety.
“Our job as health and safety practitioners is about bringing people on board. It’s about engaging and interacting with the overall business activities, without just saying ‘no’ to anyone. I very rarely say ‘no’ to anybody. However, my philosophy is to work with the various departments collaboratively to ensure that tasks are undertaken safely and the core business objectives are met.”
The scale of the business
“Arsenal FC is a pretty diverse organisation. The club has three main sites, with the Emirates stadium being the primary venue. Next to it, there is the Arsenal FC Museum, which is part of the very popular Arsenal tour. On the south west side of the stadium, we have a Community Hub, which houses a variety of facilities used by the members of the Arsenal FC community team, as well as a state of the art 4G artificial pitch.
“The club works with several community groups: vulnerable children, adults and community projects, which teach local residents and other people a variety of skills. For example, we run a gap year project for youngsters working on behalf of the club in countries such as Mozambique, India, and South Africa. We send them to soccer schools all over the world where they work with local community teams gaining valuable life experiences.
“We have a Youth Academy for people from a pre-academy age (under-eights) upwards to 16-18 year olds. Its facilities in Hale End, East London’s Waltham Forest, have recently been extensively regenerated and they now include a state-of-the-art facility and five reconfigured pitches. There, young people develop their football skills, sometimes on a school-day release basis.
“The Arsenal first team only come to the Emirates for match days. They train and work at the 147-acre training ground in Colney, near St Albans, which has 11 football pitches and a newly built state-of-the-art training facility.
“The Club also supports many soccer schools all over the world, which are run as franchises, with offices in the Far East, Singapore and China.”
Health and safety in the football business
“Arsenal FC’s vision and values are encapsulated in our motto: ‘Proud to be Arsenal’. It relates to all our activities. Health and safety, which has a consultative nature, fits well into this ethos. Everything we do has to be in line with what’s best for the club.
“I am responsible for health and safety of Arsenal and I have a team of two safety advisors who do a lot of legwork in this busy place. However, event safety is a completely different thing. The event safety and security manager and the stadium management team are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of 60,000 people who come to the Emirates on a match day.
“They have complete control of that event, operating from a control room, which houses CCTV, communication streams, members of the London Ambulance, Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade teams, as well as the mobilisation of stewarding staff. On a match day, it’s a very busy environment and there’s a lot of pressure in that room to maintain complete control of the venue.
“We work closely with local authorities and other agencies to ensure that the team always gets to the stadium on time and there is safe access and egress for the 60,000 visitors who come and go in a relatively short period of time. The Emirates stadium has good transport links: Arsenal and Holloway Road underground stations, as well as Drayton Park Overground and many bus services.
“The whole stadium is checked two days before a match, and then again on the match day. This is a joint effort between the health and safety and the stadium management team. We break the stadium up into several areas and check the entire stadium site, inside and out.
“My role on a match day may seem very reactive. However, at this stage it is a good test of whether the safe systems of work that everyone follows are fit for purpose and implemented correctly. I wait for things to go wrong while continuous monitoring and dynamic inspections are completed. I don’t have time to see football as I walk up to 20km moving around the stadium and climb approximately 50 sets of stairs.”
“If any health and safety issues are reported, I get called by radio from the control room. I examine the situation and try to identify causes and potential opportunities to prevent reoccurrence. Various stakeholders could be involved in such incidents, such as the maintenance teams, the control room and even the Arsenal crowd doctors.
At the time when football is not being played, I get back to the strategic and more proactive side of my role. For example, during the summer ‘off season’ period, various maintenance and construction work is undertaken. This requires extensive management of CDM projects and contractors working on site. We also hire the venue for events, including concerts, corporate hospitality and weddings.
“Since my appointment here nearly three years ago, I’ve prepared a new health and safety strategy for the business, which became incorporated into areas such as leadership and accountability, legal compliance, risk management, planning, information and training, as well as control of contractors. We have developed a new risk assessment programme for our teams’ overseas tours and travel. For example, before the youth team toured South Africa, we visited the route of the tour and looked at hotels, the playing venues and pitch surfaces, so the team could rest assured that they were going to be playing in a safe environment.
“On another occasion, we visited FC Zenit, in St Petersburg, Russia, to check how their health and safety translated into our own standards. We were happy to find out that they were compliant.
“Now, the travel team, safeguarding team, health and safety team and football teams work closely together to ensure that everything runs smoothly in this higher risk area.”
Managing the health and safety of Arsenal FC is unlike any health and safety job. With the enormous scale of the enterprise, requiring non-stop attention and 100 per cent commitment, does the responsibility sometimes frighten you?, I ask Spencer.
“Not really, because the responsibility is shared. Our CEO and our chairman are backing our efforts and the changes we propose. We also have support of the senior management team, who participates in the work of the risk committee and our Health and Safety Steering Committee.
“In health and safety, structure and procedures are very important. It’s all about how we make it work so people can follow. Therefore, we are trying to keep our procedures and policies simple but effective, to ensure that staff are engaged and support our work so everyone goes home in good health.
“Joining a new industry sector, I looked for sources of information and advice on the sector’s best practice. Having dealt before with the British Safety Council’s Sector Interest Groups (SIGs), I proposed that a new sector interest group for stadia be added to the British Safety Council’s agenda. Working collaboratively and co-chairing this new group, we brought together a number of industry practitioners from all over the UK to discuss and propose solutions to key issues for the sector. The British Safety Council has been actively supporting the work of the group by delivering policy updates and facilitating its growing size.
“I have always worked closely with the British Safety Council to address the health and safety training needs of our staff. As a result, we have identified a number of champions who assist us with the implementation of the overall health and safety strategy throughout the Club. We now have people who are trained to NEBOSH NGC Level 3 and IOSH Managing Safely qualifications. We also offer the British Safety Council’s online Level One training to our staff, which is a part of our membership package. This creates a culture where like-minded people recognise the risks and know how to follow them up.
“Structure is important, but culture is key. It is about getting everybody involved, so the responsibility for health and safety in the Club becomes a shared goal.“
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