When we think of outside music festivals our minds often conjure up visual images of mud splattered, alcohol drinking , welly wearing, festival goers, dancing and moshing in the mud amongst a background of, multi coloured tents and vast musical stages! To some, these images might be fresh in the mind, after attending a recent festival, or a nostalgic memory from bygone days; but for others the mere thought of subjecting themselves to the experience strikes terror in their hearts!
For those who relish the possibility of returning to much loved festival venues, or embarking on their first experience, awareness of common health and hygiene issues is a must! Dr Chris Howes, the Medical Director of Festival Medical Services, states that ‘many injuries and health concerns could be avoided with better planning.’
Alongside deciding on the perfect wardrobe:- to include wellies, sunglasses, a hat, (and sunscreen), a summer dress and a thick jumper ( who knows what the weather will do!), some of the most important items to include have got to be hygiene related. As well as all the normal toiletries, essential extras in this regard are widely agreed to be:- baby wipes, hand cleansing gel, bin bags, plasters, paracetamol and immodium. Any specific individual medication must be packed , as first aiders at festivals can only dispense the basics (although it is useful to find out where the medical centre is situated incase assistance is needed with pre existing medical conditions.)
One of the most common health complaints at festivals, is a bout of sickness and diarrohoea. It might seem obvious, but special care needs to be taken to wash hands before eating and after using the toilet, or after handling rubbish. If it not possible to get to a washroom, then anti bacterial gel and wet wipes can help. An article from ‘Virtual Festivals’ points out that, as toilets get cleaned first thing in the morning, this is the best time to use them. Also, wearing wellies ( not flip flops) and using a baby wipe to clean the rim can help a little with hygiene issues surrounding the use of communal toilets.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) remind festival goers of a few ‘top tips’ to keep themselves healthy through the festival season. This includes making sure that enough water is drunk but only from sealed water bottles or portable , signposted taps. Dr Salter gives the common sense advice to ‘avoid doing anything to excess’ in order to protect your health at festivals and that it ‘ is essential to follow good hygiene practices and wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilets’.
Of course, no matter how hygiene and health conscious festival goers are, organizers themselves are responsible for making the festival site as clean and healthy an environment as possible. Research from the Health Protection Agency in 2010 revealed that food, water, chopping boards and cleaning cloths sampled from mobile and outdoor food vendors were contaminated with a range of bacteria, including E.Coli. Over a seven month period , 1,662 samples were collected from 153 events, including music festivals, and results showed that 8% of food samples an 27% of water samples contained unacceptable levels of bacteria. Even worse, environmental swabs taken from chopping boards and cleaning cloths, showed that 60% and 56% respectively did not meet the required hygiene standards.
An article in Hygiene Audit Systems on April 13th, last year, suggests that ‘lack of space, volume of customers, use of temporary staff and poor hand washing facilities could be reasons why hygiene might be lower at outdoor events’ but the report cited failures in hand washing hygiene by food handlers as one of the prominent reasons. Maybe, as attempts are now being made in hospitals to empower patients to ask medical staff if they have washed their hands, festival goers need to be encouraged to challenge food vendors in the same way, before they make a purchase.
Food stalls might appear an obvious area of concern with regard to hygiene, but what might be more a more surprising contamination risk comes from security wristbands that both food vendors and attendees are often required to wear. When examined, 20% of wristbands sampled were found to be also found to be contaminated with bacteria. Maybe not such an obvious source of possible infections!
Even, finally giving into the, not unusual, rainy and muddy festival conditions, can be a health hazard. Maria Godoy reported in her April 12th 2013 blog, that ‘after a rain soaked 1997 Glastonbury festival, festival goers decided to embrace the all- encompassing mud by dunking themselves in it. Unfortunately, cattle had grazed there two days earlier, and left some contaminated presents behind!’
So, the bags are packed, the tent taken down, and the stages are slowly beginning to be dismantled. As well as the songs lyrics of our favourite bands ringing in our ears, and the happy memories all the festival sights and sounds, including, not least, the free spirited antics of ourselves and our friends, what message can we take away from our festival experience with regard to health and hygiene.
One thing to notice, on our way out of the grounds, are the huge piles of waste accumulated over the festival period, and it might be interesting to see if organizers seemed to have shown awareness of this as a potential health risk. Some of the suggestions towards a greener festival environment include the use of biodegradable disposables or re-usable cups and plates on stalls, separate bins for recycling, using volunteers and potential sponsorship for the clean- up and sorting efforts, and providing standard, recycling bin bags for traders.
On a more personal note it would be useful to review how, awareness of health and hygiene have helped to make the festival experience a pleasant and healthy one, and if any lessons in this regard can be taken on board at future outdoor musical events. But one thing is for sure, alongside this awareness, it is important to ‘embrace the festival spirit and have fun’!!!
Lynne Goodman – Marketing and PR director of HandryersUk. I have a keen interest in raising awareness for health and hygiene, and regularly write about health/hygiene issues , and the importance of raising awareness within everyday working environments. For more on my bio please visit http:// www.handryersuk.co.uk/blog/2014/05/19/lynne-goodman-bio
With thanks to : -
Audit Hygiene Systems –Festival Goers at Risk from Mobile Food Vendors-April 13th 2013
HPA Study 13th March 2013
Live Well NHS Choices – Festival Survival Guide
Chris Howes- Medical Director of Festival Services
A Greener Festival - Waste Management – Luke Westbury
Festival Do’s and Don’ts- The Mail Online
Dr Mark Salter- HPA
Health Warning to Festival Goers- Imogen Tilden –The Guardian