Fall Festivals: Planning a Safe Event

Plan ahead as cool air and warm hearts gather together

Planning is one of the most important elements of hosting a festival. The fun part is coming up with the games, music, and cookie walk. Just be sure you don’t forget to also plan for safety. It may not be as exciting as coming up with face painting designs, but a safe environment will make the festivities more enjoyable for everyone. The following tips will help you identify some areas that may need attention.

Staff for Safety

When you’re determining the number of staff members and volunteers you’ll need, remember to allow for at least two adults for each area, no matter how few children are in it. And only allow teenage volunteers if they are working alongside adults. Be sure each helper knows the rules for each area and that they know what to do in an emergency. You may want to have someone on staff that is trained in CPR and first aid. For more information, review our article Supervising Church-Sponsored Activities, and take a look at the screening section of Brotherhood Mutual’s website for help in selecting staff and volunteers.

Food and Sanitation

Be sure to follow basic food safety guidelines. Clean and sanitize food prep areas. Store and serve food at appropriate temperatures, and do not leave food out for more than two hours. Label everything for guests with allergies. And ensure you have access to sinks, or provide hand sanitizer for washing hands.

Inevitably when you invite groups of people to an outdoor event, they venture onto areas of your property that may or may not be part of your scheduled activities. You may want to set up visual boundaries to keep guests away from neighboring properties, roads, parking lots, and ponds. Boundaries can be fairly inexpensive and easy to set up. Consider using simple stakes and a string of colored plastic flags set high enough in the ground so they are not a trip hazard. Post signs by any potential hazard.

Playgrounds and Activities

Playgrounds—The playground is an obvious attraction no matter how many other activities there are. You can anticipate that your playground will get plenty of use. Ensure it is well maintained and safe.

Activities—If you have scheduled, organized activities like games or crafts, be sure the activities are age-appropriate for your audience. Provide safety equipment for games. Use non-toxic materials for your crafts, and avoid small items that could be choking hazards.

Bounce Houses

Bounce houses and fun houses, those monstrous, colorful inflatable units, are popular crowd pleasers. Prevent injuries by planning ahead. Rent equipment from a reputable company that has insurance. And arrange for the rental company’s staff to set up, operate, and tear down the equipment, when possible. Have a responsible adult supervise the inflatable at all times. Establish simple rules and ensure that each participant follows them.

Hayrides and Bonfires

Hayrides and bonfires are almost synonymous with autumn. If you’re incorporating either of these activities into your festival, check out these tips.

Hayrides—Arrange to have a responsible person provide the tractor, wagon, and driving services. Make sure the tractor and wagon are equipped with adequate road and safety lighting and warning signs, and that the wagon has sturdy side panels. Choose your route carefully, inspecting it for hazards and avoiding on-road travel if possible to avoid traffic. Have plenty of adult supervisors in the wagon. Do not permit standing or crawling in the wagon while it’s in motion, and do not allow anything to be thrown in or out of the wagon (including hay or straw). Injuries from hayrides can be significant.

Bonfires—Contact your local fire department for help planning a bonfire. Be sure you are following all local guidelines and restrictions. Inspect your site and build the fire at least 25 feet away from structures, vehicles, utility lines, landscaping, etc. Provide sufficient lighting in the area.

When starting the fire, do not use lighter fluid, gasoline, or other flammable liquid. Create a perimeter around the fire to keep people at a safe distance. Never leave the fire unattended, and ensure that adults supervise children at all times. Keep the size of the bonfire area and the flames from getting too large (3 feet around by 3 feet in height), and do not allow anything to be thrown into the fire. Be sure to have extinguishing equipment nearby (fire extinguisher, garden hose, bucket of water, etc.) and a cell phone in case of emergency. Finally, extinguish the fire safely and completely at the end of the event—ensuring the pit and contents are cold.

Safety planning doesn’t take a lot of time, but it is important to the success of your event. Check with your insurance agent to be sure your policies cover the activities that you’re planning. With preparation, you can ensure that your fall festival produces endless fun with limited risk.