Thursday, 23 October 2014

Motor Sport Safety Review

The Motor Sport Safety Review Group published its initial findings ahead of the Mull Rally two weeks ago. Fortunately there was nothing too radical or controversial, but it highlighted a need to 'standardise' on certain aspects. That is usually anathema to fans and followers, but in this case it makes sense.

More contentious is the suggestion that someone will be appointed to head up safety and this is where future trouble could lie. What knowledge and experience will he/she have? Will that same person be responsible for both rallying AND speed events? And if organisers disagree with any findings or recommendations, to whom  do they appeal?

It has also been suggested that the appointed MSA Steward on each rally will have his/her brief expanded to address matters of safety.

The Group's Statement recognises that Motor Sport can never be 100 per cent safe for competitors or spectators, although much has been done in recent years. The Group has also praised the comprehensive Safety Plans that each event now produces, and has come up with two main findings - the need for a more consistent approach in the production of these safety Plans and the need for better communications with the general public.

So far so good.

One suggestion is the appointment of a new independently appointed safety delegate who would consider the safety of the public, volunteers and competing rally crews. The delegate would also consult on the draft safety plan and event planning, as well as spotting issues during the event, and providing feedback afterwards. In addition, a multi-agency planning approach would bring in a wider range of views on event planning.

Another recommendation is that the Clerk of the Course and the appointed MSA steward (with a slightly wider safety brief) should remain in Rally HQ for the duration of the event.

The review group is also suggesting improved training, education and briefing for Marshals with specific consideration being given to new marshals and training for those who wish to progress to become specialist marshals, senior marshals, stage commanders or chief marshals.

The use of dedicated event spectator safety officers and spectator safety cars has developed at some events as good practice. Both are commended as essential. The spectator safety car should therefore run immediately before the zero cars and should be equipped with a loudspeaker and siren to alert the public that the rally stage is about to go live.

A consistent livery/signage to identify course cars should also be introduced to ensure that the purpose of each car can be fully explained to spectators.

This all sounds very well and very encouraging, but just as each event depends on the quality of its volunteer officials and marshals so the sport will depend on the advice and common sense of the appointed Safety Official and the MSA Chief Steward.

What we don't want is a dictator with a big stick. We need someone who can work WITH the organisers and who has relevant experience and can earn the respect of those with whom he/she will work.

This new rule will give the MSA a problem too. There is already shortage of suitable stewards (and candidates for future 'stewardship') so asking them to take on more responsibility won't be straightforward. And you can't just send any steward to an event, unless he/she has 'relevant' experience. I well remember 'an exchange of words' with a Kart Steward attending his first tarmac rally! That's not a criticism of kart stewards, but this particular chap was just an *rs*h*l* regardless of his experience. You don't see many football referees getting sent to rugby matches do you?

Personal feelings aside, this was a positive outcome, but we'll have to wait for the full report before final judgement can be made. Naturally, no mention of who would pay for such changes has been suggested. That's a discussion for another day.

The Group will also move on to consider other areas of 2, 3 and 4 wheeled motor sport with final recommendations expected around the end of the year. Make no mistake, the Group has a HUGE task ahead and one which will be scrutinised, not just by us, but by the Police, local and national authorities, and the sport's governing body.

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