Let’s start with the good news: Emirates Old Trafford care about health and safety. Evidently they conducted a risk assessment regarding the mass exodus that was about to happen when everyone stampeded out of the stadium at the end of Rihanna’s gig, and produced a policy on the matter. Risk assessments and policies are both good things. On that we should applaud the stadium.

The stadium’s security then ‘interpreted’ the policy and decided to ask a disabled spectator to leave 10 minutes before the show finished. It turns out that spectator was Jade Jones, a Paralympic athlete and British record holder with almost 6,000 followers on Twitter, where she wrote: “Saw @rihanna at @EmiratesOT last night and was told “wheelchairs have to leave 10mins early as you are a health and safety/fire hazard,” and later added: “Paid equal money as everyone else to be told that because I’m in a wheelchair I must leave early. Discrimination at its best? @EmiratesOT”.

This tweet grabbed the attention of senior officials at the Emirates Old Trafford, who said they would investigate, and they have now said that that their experienced Operations Team appears to have misinterpreted their robust policy on this occasion. Another article has reported that the stadium said the usual exit procedure from the disabled access viewing platform is to brief the customers and ask that if they intend to stay till the end they wait for about 10 minutes when the crows have dissipated. They added that they need to hold back customers in other areas too, due to the merging of the crowds.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has also commented. The HSE seems critical of the stadium’s actions, saying it is not right for disabled people to miss the end of a concert in the name of health and safety. However, it then muddied the waters by adding, “However, if that’s part of the stadium’s own policy then they can do that.”

It would have been helpful for the HSE to have made a firmer policy statement on this one. The Equality and Human Rights Commission gives useful advice on its website: “Disabled people are entitled to make the same choices and to take the same risks within the same limits as other people. Health and safety law does not require you as a service provider to remove all conceivable risk, but to ensure that risk is properly appreciated, understood and managed. Don’t make assumptions; instead, assess the person’s situation, and consider reasonable adjustments to reduce any risks, your duty not to discriminate and, where appropriate, the disabled person’s own views. There must be a balance between protecting against the risk and restricting disabled people from access to services.”

The stadium does appears to accept that it made a mistake. Let’s be honest – we can see where the security personnel were coming from. Some disabled people are not able to move as fast as others, therefore there could have been health and safety risks. However, arguably, their choice of action was heavy-handed and disproportionate, and it was not focused on the spectator in question as an individual. The more detailed procedure that the stadium has since outlined is more nuanced and respectful.

In other words, it is always sensible to assess risks on a case by case basis and take the disabled person’s views into account. As the commission says, you cannot reduce all risk, but risk has to be understood and managed. It is also always worth considering alternatives – such as the procedure since outlined by the stadium.

Health and news stories are often are often rather depressing, involving casualties and large fines. This story, on the hand, is useful for illustrating some useful tips. The overriding point is that, in business, one should always try to minimise the chances of an accident occurring whilst at the same time treating everyone with respect and not discriminating against them.

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