River Rother raft race won't be sunk by red tape

Organisers of the River Rother raft race have vowed not to let health and safety red tape strangle this year's event.

The race has been run for 26 years over a four-mile course from Cowdray Ruins, Midhurst, on the Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend.

Its records show that a wasp sting has been the only incident requiring hospital treatment.

But the 27th event, on August 24, is now threatened by a string of health and safety requirements.

Robin Shapland, who has been organising the charity race with Ron Dudman for the past 16 years, declared: "After 26 years of the race which, as its record shows, we always do all we can to make safe, I find this a bit much.

"Where events have a capacity of 500 people, an event safety plan is now required. But we don't get anything like 500 competitors and at the start and finish we might get 300 people.

"How do we know how many spectators there might be when anyone who is in the area might decide to go and take a look at what is going on somewhere along four miles of the river? There may be 500 people, but they are all spread out."

The race is being run this year to raise money for three main charities – Macmillan Cancer Support, the Rosemary Foundation and Chestnut Tree Hospice for Children.

Small donations are also given to local charities. Last year's race raised 10,800 for the chosen good causes.

The health and safety guidelines Mr Shapland has to work to include 'a hierarchical structure of safety responsibility', an emergency plan, a communications plan, and an event risk assessment which he says neither he nor Mr Dudman have the experience to carry out.

He said: "There's only the two of us as organisers, me and Ron, so how can we have a hierarchical structure of safety responsibility?

"Also, someone usually lends us a generator to power the public address system at the start, but now we can't have one unless it has a safety certificate. To get that we are going to have to hire a generator which will cost about 50 and that's money that could have gone to charity."

Toilet provision and disabled access to riverside vantage points must also be detailed.

Mr Shapland says he has no argument with the Chichester District Council officers who deal with health and safety regulations.

"They are only doing the job the government wants them to do. They are being very helpful, but their hands are tied.

"Everyone is saying we can't be serious when we tell them what has to be done. I am not surprised people give up organising things and am asking myself when this country is going to wake up and go back to being sensible."

But he vowed: "We are determined the race will go ahead. We have all the necessary insurance in place. The race has a good safety record. Somehow we will meet what the council wants us to do."

* Mr Shapland would be delighted to hear from anyone with experience

in completing risk assessments who would be prepared to help him out of the dilemma.

Call him on 07850 309955.

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