Returning to Outdoor Work in Live Performance – Guidance for Equity Members

Important: This briefing is intended to provide general advice for Equity members on returning to work in Live Performance. It does not replace the guidance from the Government and cannot cover all possible circumstances or queries that members will have about the resumption of work in our industries. The Government guidance is available here and should be read in full alongside this briefing.

Public Health is devolved in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The UK Government guidance should be considered alongside public health and safety requirements and legislation in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Equity believes that a successful and sustainable return to work in Live Performance is contingent on four interrelated pillars:

  1. Workforce Protection
  2. Safe Opening
  3. Protecting Infrastructure
  4. Equality

Robust, clear and inclusive health and safety practices are a vital part of re-opening the industry and must be prioritised across all sectors of the entertainment industry. 

Members with queries not answered by this briefing should contact the relevant Equity Organiser. This briefing will be updated as and when the Government guidance changes.

 The Government’s Five Stage Road Map for the re-opening of Live Performance is as follows:

  • Stage One - Rehearsal and training (no audiences)
  • Stage Two - Performances for broadcast and recording purposes
  • Stage Three - Performances outdoors with an audience and pilots for indoor performances with a limited socially-distanced audience
  • Stage Four - Performances allowed indoors and outdoors (but with a limited socially-distanced audience indoors)
  • Stage Five - Performances allowed indoors / outdoors (with a fuller audience indoors)

We are now at Stage Three, with outdoor performances cleared to resume from Saturday 11th July. This briefing is in two parts – the first will cover what you need to know if you are working for other people (such as if you are working as a performer or stage manager in a production, or if you are hired to direct, choreograph or design a production), and the second section will cover what you need to know if you are working for yourself (such as if you are promoting your own act as a children’s/families entertainer, magician, tribute act or comedian etc).

Dancers should be aware that studios are cleared to re-open fully from 25th July, and are required to follow the government guidance for providers of grassroots sports/leisure facilities. If you are working as a dancer or choreographer and your work will require time in the studio then this guidance should be referred to alongside the guidance for Live Performance.

If you are working in schools, you should also take note of the Government guidance for schools and educational settings.  The school will have its own risk assessment, and you should ask to see a copy of this to inform your own preparations.

Producers, engagers and others looking to contract Equity members and other professionals on their projects/productions will need to seek advice from management associations such as the ITC and UK Theatre as this guidance is aimed at workers and will not provide the level of detail producers/engagers will require. 

  • Working for a Producer/engager

The best approach to health and safety at work is an open and collaborative one in which workers feel able to express any concerns they have and work with the producer/engager to minimise hazards. Whilst everyone has a responsibility to ensure good health & safety practice in the workplace, the legal responsibility for protecting workers health and safety sits with the engager. This means that your producer/engager is required to think about the risks you might encounter at work and do everything reasonably practical to minimise them.

It is important to recognise that, at this stage, no engager or producer can completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19 – but they are expected to show that they have done all they can reasonably do in order to reduce the risk of the virus for workers and audiences alike.

Risk Assessments: All producers and engagers should carry out a risk assessment of their proposed activities. This has always been a statutory requirement under Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and is even more important in the context of COVID-19. The purpose of a risk assessment is to identify the hazards that workers and other people may encounter in the workplace, assess the level of risk posed by each hazard and plan reasonable steps to minimise the level of risk. In doing this, engagers should look at:

  • Who might be harmed and how
  • What is already being done to control the risk
  • What further action can and should be taken to control the risk
  • Who needs to carry out the further action
  • When the action is needed by

As an example, a risk assessment of an outdoor theatre production would conclude that a hazard is posed to the health and safety of workers and audience members because of the risk of COVID-19 transmission between cast members handling the same props, and that the level of the risk is high. The assessment will then show what steps can be taken to minimise the risk (social distancing, hand sanitiser, hand washing facilities, and so on) and that the action should be taken before rehearsals begin. Steps to minimise the risk of contagion between cast members handling the same props are outlined in the Government guidance.

Sample risk assessment templates are available from the Health & Safety Executive. Remember that the risk assessment should not just cover COVID-19 but should examine all potential hazards – this would include any work at height, the risk of physical injury, hazards associated with the get in/get out, and so on. Remember that where an employer has fewer than five employees they are not required to record their findings, but Equity strongly suggests that this should be done in all circumstances and shared with those covered by the risk assessment.

It’s important to remember that a risk assessment is not a tick box exercise but an important part of keeping people as healthy and safe as possible at work. It should be referenced and referred to as a living document – to be updated when circumstances change, in the event of an incident and as hazards and/or the risk they pose alter over time.

At the point of contract, we advise that you or your agent where you have one should ask to see a copy of the production’s risk assessment. Remember that workers are to be consulted and involved in risk assessments, so it is likely that it may not be complete at this point as your input will be missing. You can ask how you will be involved in the process of compiling the risk assessment and share your ideas on minimising risk. If you are worried that this has not been done or that your concerns are not listened to, contact the relevant Equity Organiser.

Good communication will be important. Your engager should:

  • Provide clear, consistent and regular communication in accessible formats in order to improve understanding among the workforce and identify potential improvements
  • Engage with workers to agree any changes to working patterns or practices
  • Maintain awareness and focus on the importance of good mental health – particularly at times of stress or uncertainty. Information about mental health resources, including Equity’s 24 hour mental health helpline, is available on our website.

In the guidance, the government recommends that companies make a copy of their risk assessment available on their website.

COVID-19 and vulnerable groups: The pandemic has had a particularly detrimental impact on Black people and other people of colour, people with underlying conditions, disabled people and older people. Covid-19 risk assessments are required to cover the whole of the workforce, and must include Black and ethnic minority workers, and those with other risk factors including age and underlying health conditions. It is important that members understand that hard-won equality legislation still applies and is not replaced or altered by this guidance. If you are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 your individual circumstances must be taken into account under a risk assessment. The Equality Act 2010 provides a legal framework that protects the rights of individuals not to be discriminated against on the grounds of a protected characteristic, including at work and in the pursuit of work opportunities. Best practice would also consider the particular needs and circumstances of parents and those with caring responsibilities. The PiPA Best Practice Charter is a useful starting point.

If you have concerns that your rights under the Equality Act 2010 have potentially been breached, then contact your Equity Organiser.

A note on singing, wind and brass: Until the scientific evidence base is further established, the government is recommending a phased approach to the management of risk when singing and playing wind and brass instruments in both professional and non-professional contexts. Singing and playing wind and brass instruments, especially in groups, are considered higher risk activities because of the potential for aerosol production and the absence presently of developed scientific analysis to assess this specific risk. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has commissioned further scientific studies to be carried out to develop robust scientific data for these activities. More detailed information on singing, wind and brass can be found in the Government guidance.

What work should look like

People should continue to socially distance from those they do not live with wherever possible. This means keeping two meters apart, or 1 meter with robust mitigation.

The government guidance is clear that producers should plan for the minimum number of people to be on site in order to operate safely and effectively which will mean thinking about rehearsal periods carefully. Equity recommends that rehearsals and working time are arranged to ensure that people who cannot walk, drive or cycle to work do not have to travel on public transport at peak times. Remote technology can be used where appropriate and where its use would not present people without access to suitable equipment with barriers to participation, and only absolutely necessary participants should attend meetings. Where meetings cannot take place outdoors, workers should be helped to maintain social distancing with the use of floor signage.

Section 4 of the government guidance covers how workers can be kept safe in Live Performance environments. This is the starting point for all professional activities members will undertake and Equity advises members to read it carefully. Specific examples or concerns not covered in the guidance should be discussed with the relevant Equity Organiser.

If there is a problem, or you have worries or concerns, then step one is to raise this with the engager. At the point of contract, ask if there is a named person with responsibility for health and safety – if there is, make sure you have that person’s contact information. Remember that while the stage management team may have some delegated responsibility for health and safety, the overall responsibility sits with the producer/engager and it is to them that concerns should be addressed. If you do not feel able to raise any concerns on your own, speak to your Equity Organiser and we can support you.

  • Working for yourself

If you have been booked by a business, political organisation, local authority or other entity specified in the guidance then you will not be subject to the capacity limit of 30 people. If you are a sole trader then the capacity limit of 30 people in an outdoor space will still apply.

Discussions Equity Organisers have had with First Act confirm that your Public Liability Insurance is valid on the condition that the Government guidance is followed. Please read the guidance carefully and ensure that you follow it. Some members have been able to take bookings in care homes where they are distanced from the residents and at small gatherings in gardens and in schools in some cases. Busking/street performance is another activity that members have been able to do again with social distancing and where this can be done without causing crowds to build up or obstructing the flow of pedestrians. This may apply to parks if busking is allowed in them.

As an individual act you are still required to conduct a risk assessment of the activities you intend to undertake to think through how this can be made as safe as possible. When you have fewer than five employees the results of your risk assessment do not have to be written down – but it may be helpful for you to record the risk assessment in case you are asked to provide one by venues or bookers. Information about risk assessments can be found on the Health & Safety Executive website. You should think carefully about how social distancing can be maintained during your act, and what measures you will need to have in place to ensure this is adhered to by audiences.

Equity Guidelines for Covid Risk Assessment: Variety and Live Entertainment