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Podcast: Safety behind the scenes at Wembley Stadium

Episode 3 provides some exclusive insight into how safety was managed at Wembley Stadium during 2020, after plans for the year were thrown into turmoil by Covid-19.

Our guest, the iconic venue's Health and Safety Manager Tom Wike, reveals how the team there responded, including out in the community, and some of the positive thoughts he'll be taking from the experience through to 2021.

If you would prefer to read instead, you can find the full episode transcript below.

Join in our discussion around safety at work and Covid-19 on Linkedin here.

Discover more about RiskSTOP.


Johnny Thomson  00:08

Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of the RiskACUMEN podcast which offers thoughtful insight around Risk Engineering and Management. My guest today works somewhere truly iconic. Not only does it hold 90,000 people when full, but it has four of the largest restaurants in London, 98 kitchens, 35 retail units, and here is the really interesting in fact, a world record 2618 toilets apparently! Now the place I'm talking about is Wembley Stadium and I'm joined today by its Health and Safety Manager and Chartered Member of IOSH, Tom Wike. Hi Tom, how's it going?


Tom Wike  00:49

Yeah, great thanks Johnny. I'm just ordering some soap for those toilets for when we get some fans back!


Johnny Thomson  00:58

Tom, what a place to work. What's it like being health and safety manager at Wembley Stadium?


Tom Wike  01:04

Yeah, it's a great job. It's a daunting job. It's definitely a daunting job. As you've said, the 90,000 people is kinda just the half of it really, it's such an iconic place. It's such a huge venue and you know it's a place that never stops. So people always think of it as just an event venue, but it really isn't, you know, we've got offices here for the Football Association, we've got ongoing work, capital projects works all that kind of thing every day, you know, 365 days a year so it's certainly daunting. But it all comes into perspective when you kind of sit there and take five minutes during an event and you you see 90,000 people really enjoying a concert or enjoying the FA Cup Final as an example, it's one of those places that you can really appreciate working.


Johnny Thomson  01:47

Yeah, and I guess a huge responsibility for you as well of course and I guess under normal circumstances the stadium would literally be bursting at the seams with people, but 2020 hasn't really been a normal year has it? 


Tom Wike  02:00

No, it's certainly not. So we were obviously planning for an extremely busy year this year. We started with the Carabao Cup Final at the end of February, start of March, which was our last event with spectators in, but this year was supposed to have you know really high hopes so we were supposed to have the Euros, semi-finals, final of Euro 2020. Obviously all our usual event calendar, so FA Cup Final, FA Cup semi-finals, playoff finals with with 90,000 fans in attendance for each one of those. We had some great concerts booked with The Eagles and Westlife and then obviously some England internationals, which are really our sort of linchpin events. But unfortunately, although we have ran a lot of those events, and the majority of those events, we are yet to welcome any more spectators since the since the end of February.


Johnny Thomson  02:52

So I mean, sounds like your work to a strict plan, normally, so I would imagine one of the big challenges for you has being having to kind of improvise really, that must have been scary and exciting as well, I guess at the same time?


Tom Wike  03:06

Yeah, improvisation and flexibility are our two, two buzzwords really for this year. So as you say, you know, we kind of start with a plan, every event has a plan, most events are sort of 12 months in the making. So before we know the teams involved, before sometimes we even know the artists involved for concerts, we will be planning events and, and planning around kind of audience demographics and times of year and all those kind of key things, builds and different bits and pieces that can bring hazards and risks. But this year, it was so unknown. We've never had a behind closed doors game at Wembley before this year. And then this year, I think we've run about 16. And it's just kind of how do you balance everything that's going on in the world. So you know, the unknowns in the beginning about Coronavirus, and what it may bring what the specific hazards and risks are of it, with the usual operations. So, bringing in broadcast,  having the work at heights having all those kinds of bits and pieces, which would usually require quite an intense workforce, but then scaling that workforce back based on government regulations based on best practice. And as you say, a lot of improvisation and a lot of changing on a kind of daily basis of not only what we can and can't do, but what we also feel is right to do. We have to to take, as Wembley as the National Stadium, we have to take a view that we want to minimise harm, we want to minimise risk as much as we possibly can. And that really makes a difference when you're dealing with some unknowns like Coronavirus this year. And yeah, so flexibility and improvisation you're certainly right has has been the key.


Johnny Thomson  04:41

And from a process point of view, what what sort of things have you been implementing there? And just paint a bit of a picture, if you can Tom, just to give me an idea of really how you've been managing those risks?


Tom Wike  04:54

So, from a process point of view, as you say, we have a standard kind of process that works for every event through an operations manual for the stadium, which ties in with our general safety certificate. Basically, when you take spectators out and add a virus in, you kind of throw out the operations manual, because it's all very much governed towards the spectators and keeping the spectators safe. And then it becomes a lot more your general day to day health and safety. So it's a lot more right okay, what are the hazards? What are the risks? And how do we control them for the limited number of people? How can we ensure that we can still control hazards despite having a limited number of people, because obviously, you know, things like technical assistance, and all that kind of stuff is a priority in terms of controlling some of the hazards. But the majority of it was basically sitting down getting back to basics, we have a great team here. So we took a lot of lead from our medical team. So our chief medical officer and our medical manager have been fantastic throughout this year. And they're now now enjoying a very well earned break. And basically, it's just going back to basics. So that's, that's what we have to do is kind of look at everything, and then rewrite it all over again. And then as the guidance changed, as the information changed, we then rewrote it again. As different event owners came in with different ideas and ways of working and that kind of thing we kind of embraced and collaborated with them to make sure that we were still happy that we had all the safe systems or work in place, and all the right controls. And went from there, really. So that was the key was collaboration and starting from scratch.


Johnny Thomson  06:28

Yeah, I guess it almost sounds like it's kind of brought people together. Which which, you know, is one of the cliches of course of the viruses is we're all in this together. And I suppose that may be one of the one of the positives to come out of this.


Tom Wike  06:42

Yeah, I certainly think it is. So in, in the sports and events industry, as you can imagine, sort of everybody's got a very competitive nature. And sharing best practice, unfortunately, is usually seen as giving away competitive secrets. So you know, that unfortunately even comes down to health and safety between different event venues between different teams and clubs and that kind of thing. But that's been the real positive of this year is everybody's collaborated everybody's work together, because we've all got the same common goal now, which was to, to bring events back, whether they be behind closed doors, or with a limited number of spectators. And the fact that we are now all working together is a lot better. There's still improvements that could be made. And I think this is one of the key learning points for me is certainly I will reach out to the network a lot more. And I'm very receptive for people reaching out to us, because we may not always get things 100% right. We may not always be perfect. I'm sure it's very rare that anybody is perfect. But I strongly believe that together we can all make improvements, which benefit everybody.


Johnny Thomson  07:47

Okay, that's great. And how would people reach out to you Tom in that way?


Tom Wike  07:51

Yeah, so I'm very receptive, sort of on LinkedIn, and that kind of thing. So you know, I've got a great network there. There's also a few different bits and pieces. So the IOSH Sports Grounds and Events Committee, so that's always key I think. Anybody with a role in events and sports grounds should be on that committee basically, should be a member. And that's a great forum for being able to share ideas and any issues, and also things like the British Safety Council. So we're part of the Stadia Sector Interest Group, which obviously brings a lot of sort of different ideas from different stadiums from football grounds, Premier League grounds, sort of downwards, and then also from the likes of Twickenham. So you know, everybody is sharing in a in a kind of very open manner, which is great and very helpful.


Johnny Thomson  08:37

Excellent. That's great news. And just to see if you if you are trying to find Tom, either on Google or LinkedIn, as soon as W-I-K-E, isn't it? 


Tom Wike  08:46

That's correct, yes.. 


Johnny Thomson  08:49

What about people's perception of safety and health? Do you think that's kind of diminished? Or has it improved as a result of this crisis? What what are you seeing from a professional perspective?


Tom Wike  09:00

Yeah, so the the perception of health and safety. I've done a bit of work on this in the past, the perception of health and safety as a profession and that kind of thing. And it's a, it's a really tricky one, I think, people's perception, and people's knowledge of hazards and risks has certainly improved this year. And that's obviously always a benefit. But I do think that the key is that health and safety needs to come from a sound basis. So it needs to come from, based on the science or based on the actions or based on actual tangible results. And that's where, because we've taken the lead from our medical professionals, because this is very much a medical issue and medical hazard, we've really been able to get people on board and get people to buy in. So we've had the likes of toolbox talks from our medical manager and CMO. We've had, you know, ongoing meetings basically where they will present the most up to date details on the virus on on how it spreads and all those kind of things and the control measures. And I do believe that provided health and safety can come from the room perspective provided it comes from the right knowledgeable angle. And it's also delivered in the right way. And the right way isn't about talking to people. It's about talking with people conversing in an engaging and finding out what it is they need and going on from there. And I'd like to hope that this year and people's knowledge of risk assessments, I've never heard the word risk assessment mentioned as much on the six o'clock news as it has been this year. And in all honesty, I hope it's not ever again. But I certainly hope that that helps people's perception of health and safety and what it's trying to achieve.


Johnny Thomson  10:35

Brilliant. And that seems like it would be one of the key takeaways from 2020 for you, and to take through it into 2021. I'm just interested if there's anything else. Any other experiences that stand out Tom, that you feel like this experience has taught you?


Tom Wike  10:52

Yeah, I think the other the other point for me this year has definitely been to look beyond the borders of your job role, look beyond the borders for me of being a health and safety professional. So when it all first started back in March, and we kind of told everybody, right work from home for the next three weeks, and we'll kind of see where it goes from there. That quickly became April, May, three months, you know, and obviously, people still aren't back in the office as it stands at the moment. But I think by looking beyond the borders. So obviously, health and safety professionals have been extremely busy. But there's also been downtime. So because we didn't have events for sort of three periods, we opened up the stadium and saw what we could do for the local community. So one of the real highlights for me or a couple of the real highlights is we managed to, through our links already with the London Ffire Brigade and London Ambulance Service is open up our venue for some Ambulance Service driver training for serving Fire Officers. So basically, they were trained to drive ambulances, which basically meant that an extra 300 fire officers who were trained at the stadium could then go and work on ambulances, which assisted the number of ambulances that could be on the streets of London. And, you know, made a made a huge difference. And that's something I look back on definitely with a great deal of fondness from the year. And within the first seven days of training they've been out they've been delivering babies, they've been sort of saving people who'd had heart attacks and that kind of thing. And it was great to hear the stories coming back. But I do think that, you know, the key is, and a lot of people have really struggled this year, but take five minutes look back on the year. And there will certainly be positives that have happened, there'll certainly be learning points where you'll feel like a better person or you'll feel like you can take those learnings and those achievements forward. You know, no matter how the year has been


Johnny Thomson  12:39

Brilliant Tom. It's a great way to start the new year to not look back at the last year as being a complete write off and total disaster, but that actually there may be some positives, certainly from a health and safety and a risk management perspective coming out of that. Anything else you want to get over or? For me, you know, the thoughts you've given today are brilliant, and you know, I'd just like so many thanks for the =terrific insight. Great stuff. 


Tom Wike  13:08

No, no problem Johnny is it's great to be involved. You know, I'm extremely lucky in the position that I'm in and you know, anything that I can do to get that message out is really appreciated.


Johnny Thomson  13:19

Yeah. And of course, we've been trying desperately not to talk about football you and I even though it's Wembley Stadium and both great fans, but we both agreed in a kind of pre-chat not to turn it into a football podcast! 


Tom Wike  13:31

We did, as hard as it was!


Johnny Thomson  13:33

So yeah, well done with that. And I'll give myself a pat on the back as well. Great, Tom, thanks very much for that. It's, it's been great chatting to you, as always. 


Tom Wike  13:41

Thank you, Johnny. 


Johnny Thomson  13:43

You've been listening to the RiskACUMEN podcast. If you have any questions or comments around the topic we've covered today, please get yourself on to LinkedIn. We have a page there and as Tom said, you can find him on there as well. And you can also find a link on Thanks again, Tom and until next time, good bye for now.




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