Safety Committee

The ongoing work in 2009 continued to build on the restructuring effort that was started in 2008. While a new structure for the core part of the safety committee was formed in 2008, it was realized that many departments have direct and indirect roles with safety and that there was confusion organizationally regarding which team was responsible for the follow up. Depending on the circumstances often multiple teams are involved and that creates confusion over who has the responsibility for documentation. For example, a problem that happens at least once a year is a minor fuel spill on the playa. Usually it results from a sloppy transfer from a 5 gallon “jerry can” to a generator. When such a spill occurs the Rangers, Earth Guardians, DPW, Emergency Services Hazardous Materials Unit, the Emergency Services Safety Team and the BLM all play role. If you asked members of each team who was responsible for what you would get a variety of answers, none of which are wrong per se, but quickly reveal the lack of a unified command structure for such interdepartmental situations. Reviewing process and standards for communication are being considered to mitigate such situations from degrading from an accountability and documentation standpoint.

Additionally there is an on-going effort to rename teams that have a role in safety to more clearly communicate their area of responsibility. For example the Performance Safety Team (PST) which oversees fire art, fire performance, pyrotechnics, etc. has been renamed the Fire Art Safety Team (FAST), not only to reduce the confusion with other teams but to also clarify that the team isn’t just a group of safety personnel for fire spinners.

It’s likely that safety efforts will become more decentralized, as departments’ safety awareness and responsibility increases, and the central body acts more as a compliance, documentation and policy setting body. Burning Man’s Executive Committee (as part of a larger organizational development effort) has formed an Executive Safety Subcommittee which is likely to take on that role as it matures organizationally.

The Emergency Services Safety Team, which was formed in 2008, again performed daily inspections of Black Rock City to find and mitigate potential safety issues. When a safety issue was identified, this group established a dialog with the organizers of the theme camp, art installation or other interactive space to find a way to minimize or eliminate the risk without negatively impacting the spirit of their project. Like 2008, the team found far fewer issues than were anticipated, which speaks highly of those who create projects for the playa.

Submitted by,
Joseph Pred