Safe Practices - Lawyer & Safety Advocate Steven A. Adelman

by Michael Eddy
in Safety

At the USITT 2018 Conference and Stage Expo, we had the opportunity to speak with a wide array of theater artists and technicians, attendees, speakers, and participants. Among those who came by the USITT Stage Directions Studio was Steven A. Adelman, head of Adelman Law Group and vice president of the Event Safety Alliance. He’s been a lawyer since 1994, and Adelman Law Group, PLLC focuses on risk management, litigation, and standard of care expert testimony regarding premises liability, crowd management, and event safety and security. He shared how he got interested in safety, how he advocates for safe practices, and how to think about keeping artists and audiences safe in our theaters.

“Unfortunately, thinking about safety often is driven by tragic incidents that capture the headlines and people’s imagination,” Adelman says. “They tend to distract us because these horrific incidents are the shiny object of the moment, which take our attention away from fixing the problems that are always there; that are easy to fix with mostly existing resources and training that would be relatively easy to provide to event professionals who could use it.” Adelman continues, “If you look at the data regarding insurable incidents at live event spaces, the most common incidents are trip and falls, forklift accidents, and other routine issues—we can fix them if we just pay attention to them. The horrific, society-changing issues—not so much.”

Getting the Small Stuff Right
If you look around your theater, your workplace, you will most likely see areas where safety could be improved. Adelman refers to this as the ‘low hanging fruit’, the risks that can be assessed and mitigated relatively easily. He keeps an eye out and posts pictures on his website and in his e-blasts of safety issues he comes across in his travels. “There’s so much low hanging fruit,” he says. “When you look around, there are basic things like trip hazards, signage, lighting—these are all things that ought to be done right every time because they’re so routine. But the people who are tasked with making them right every time are often at the bottom of the chain of authority in their venue. Young people, who are just entering the industry, if they become aware of the right way to get the easy stuff correct every time, that will take care of many common risk factors at live events. It’s death by a thousand cuts. USITT is doing G-d’s work by teaching people to pay attention to the routine stuff that’s so easy to correct, but so often is nonetheless still done wrong.”

Not Quite by Accident
Unlike most sports and entertainment lawyers, who deal with either intellectual property rights or talent representation, Adelman’s practice focuses on the live event, both back of house and in the crowd. He has successfully combined his law career with expertise regarding safety and security at events, but even he says that he fell into this opportunity. “When I’m talking about catastrophes, I often talk about “Black Swans.” A Black Swan is extraordinarily rare if not unprecedented, and it’s highly impactful, so it rocks our world. My practice is a Black Swan. I was handling mostly injury type cases—big, catastrophic cases—but still I was a pretty ordinary tort lawyer. Then a case crossed my desk where a young man almost died at a big festival due to a crowd crush injury. After it resolved I wound up talking about it a lot because it was so interesting, and I had learned so much from it. I started to meet people who would come up to me and say, ’Gee Steve, you seem to know something about the live event industry. My lawyer doesn’t. Maybe you could help me.’ And from conversations like that, a practice was born.”

“What I do, dealing with risk and safety at live events for my entire law practice, as far as I know that’s not a thing for anyone else. But for me it’s great,” he continues. “It’s interesting, it gets me out talking to people—what I learned as ‘management by walking around’—and I feel like I’m helping make the world a safer place, which is saying a lot for any lawyer. Most lawyers roll out of bed in the morning saying, ‘No!’ I get to figure out how people can say yes safely. That’s a good thing.”

Subject Matter Expert
Over his years concentrating on safety and security at live events, Adelman has taught and lectured on the subject extensively. For a decade, he was a member of the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM), a trade organization for venue managers and their security providers. He was invited to join the faculty of IAVM’s Academy for Venue Safety & Security, where he taught for 10 years about risk and safety to the operational leaders of stadiums, arenas, performing arts centers, convention facilities, and other public accommodations. 

In 2011, following the Indiana State Fair outdoor stage roof collapse, Adelman joined with other event industry professionals to form the Event Safety Alliance. ESA focuses on identifying, distilling, and teaching reasonable operational practices and decision-making for the live event industry. In January 2014, ESA published the Event Safety Guide, a treatise whose 39 chapters help industry professionals recognize safe workplace practices, heighten their appreciation for life safety, and make reasonable decisions in their daily work. “We have begun work on a Second Edition, many of whose chapters will be released as individual ANSI standards. I am Chair of the Crowd Management Task Group.” Adelman also teaches several classes as a member of the faculty of Arizona State University through its Sports Law and Business program, a joint offering of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the W.P. Carey School of Business.

Adelman has become immersed in the industry he serves. “I visit lots of venues and attend many shows and sporting events, but I am usually looking somewhere other than the stage or the playing field because the greatest safety issues often lie elsewhere,” he comments. “I still love going to events – I just enjoy them differently than I used to.” 

You can learn more about Steve Adelman and sign up for a free subscription to Adelman on Venues at 

Life Safety First at the Event Safety Alliance

The Event Safety Alliance (ESA) is a non-profit trade association of live event industry professionals committed to eliminating the knowledge barrier that often contributes to unsafe conditions and behaviors through the promotion and teaching of good practices and the development of training and planning resources. They advocate for consistent and effective safety practices throughout all phases of event production and execution. An important resource to our industry, the ESA is made up of individual and corporate members from all segments of the live event industry who are devoted to making a difference—and saving lives. 

ESA operates with a strong belief that as an industry we have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for our industry family and guests; that cultivating a culture of safety will reduce uncertainty and risk while positively impacting our members in the quality, reliability, competitiveness and profitability of their work; the industry possesses the motivation, experience, skill, and desire to assure the safety of its own assets; and every individual has the power to improve safety at an event by not just talking about safe methods and techniques, but practicing them, advocating for them on the job, arriving prepared and equipped to operate safely, and intervening when necessary to prevent unsafe acts. A major goal of the ESA is to transform the culture of the industry (i.e., the way we do things) by deeply integrating safety into all activities so that both individual and group behaviors are affected. 

Come Together
The ESA holds sessions and summits, all of which can be found on their website as well as presenting sessions at various industry tradeshows and events. They have their own gathering as well, the annual Event Safety Summit, which this year will take place Wednesday, November 28 – Friday, November 30, 2018 at Rock Lititz in Lititz, PA. Registration is open for this year’s summit, which is titled: Designing for Safety: Planning, Creativity, and the Art of Problem Solving. The summit will explore the importance of intentional design when developing safety and operational plans, training, event structures, and careers. Featuring over 20 presentations, workshops, forums, and activities.

Hitting the Books
The Event Safety Guide is the United States’ first published safety guidance directed specifically at the live event industry. Culled from existing life safety standards and the insight of top professionals within the event industry, The Event Safety Guide compiles the best operational practices currently available in the live event industry in a single easily referenced manual. The guide is not a “how-to book” or a complicated set of standards. Rather, it is intended to help busy industry professionals know what safe workplace practices might be, heighten their understanding of the importance of safety in everything they do, and apply these best practices in their daily work.

Designed for field use, The Event Safety Guide is categorically organized and written in straightforward and easily understood language. Thirty-nine chapters and five appendixes address a broad range of subjects relevant to most events, including emergency planning, weather preparedness, and fire safety, as well as specific technical issues such as pyrotechnics, rigging, and temporary staging. Included appendixes provide additional resources, including helpful planning checklists and information on the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS). All referenced standards are thoroughly cited within the text to ensure readers know precisely where to turn for additional information.

The ESA website is a great resource for information about safety, and they have a Shop section where you can purchase a copy of The Event Safety Guide in a variety of formats. You can get it both printed or digital (including Kindle, Nook, iBooks, as well as a French translation in the Nook format). You can also become a member of the ESA at

Knowledge of and awareness of safety are the most useful tools anyone can bring into a production situation, and the Event Safety Alliance is one way to be better prepared for what life throws our way. 

Learn more about the Event Safety Alliance: