Obituary: Euan Turner, health and safety advisor

Health and safety specialist behind the industry 'bible' for good theatre practice. Picture: Contributed
Health and safety specialist behind the industry 'bible' for good theatre practice. Picture: Contributed
Have your say

Born: 13 February, 1970, in Reigate, Surrey. Died: 11 June, 2015, in Perth, aged 45.

Euan Turner, who has died aged 45, was a leading authority on health and safety across a wide range of sectors for more than 20 years. His practical and human approach to a subject which can often be met with institutional alarm or resistance helped many organisations, big and small, to implement significant and long-lasting changes to the way they manage health and safety and consequently ensure safer environments for both workers and the general public.

His work in the performing arts, particularly theatre safety and noise safety for orchestras, is unique in the UK and he was the driving force behind Theatre Essentials, the industry standard “bible” for theatre safety since 2001.

Euan was born in Reigate, Surrey in 1970 and educated at King Edward’s School Witley, from 1981. He went to St Andrews University in 1988, completing a BSc in 1992. During his time at St Andrews he was elected deputy president of the Students’ Union, a duty he undertook through a sabbatical year from academic studies.

After graduating he joined Scottish Hydro-Electric in 1993, where he learned the ropes around health and safety and became a full member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in 1997.

Euan joined the Scottish Theatre’s Technical Training Trust, S4T, in 1999 as health and safety advisor. At that time the theatre industry had recognised the need to develop a collective approach to improving health and safety, but often struggled to understand what was required of it by the enforcing agencies, and they in turn often struggled to understand how the theatre sector worked.

With Euan’s involvement the industry was able for the first time to speak with an informed collective voice. His understanding of the numerous regulations coupled with his engaging manner enabled him to communicate at all organisational levels, from the boards of the biggest organisations to individual performers or technicians, increasing understanding, influencing behaviour and helping make the industry safer.

In 1998 the Health and Safety Executive had identified the need for a document to illustrate what good health and safety practice in the theatre sector would look like. In 2001 and after three years without progress, Euan offered to take the work on, working with and coordinating a wide range of theatre unions and management bodies, and Theatre Essentials was born.

In the 14 years since, the document has had minor updates, but as a testament to Euan’s thoroughness it has stood the test of time. It still delivers the original goal of providing clarity and understanding for an industry which often struggles with regulations created primarily with other industries in mind.

Euan left S4T to pursue another of his lifelong passions, the care and preservation of the environment, when he joined the National Trust for Scotland as health, safety and environment advisor in 2003. He co-authored a unique health, safety and environment management system which made the trust a better place to work and visit and is still in place today.

His professionalism, sense of values and likeable nature meant that he made a lasting impact on the trust, even though he was only there for two and half years.

He further applied his ability to work with large, complex institutions, helping them to change and develop new approaches, when he took on the post of health and safety manager at Perth and Kinross Council in 2006.

His contribution, personal style and passion to further the health and safety message was immense and allowed him to persevere with and navigate his way through the complexities of local government working. Although his approach tackled the technical issues, Euan’s focus was on the human side of health and safety, which in his view “made the difference”.

In 2008 Euan returned to the performing arts, co-devising and establishing the Health and Safety Advisor Service at the Federation of Scottish Theatre (FST), the professional membership body for dance, opera and theatre in Scotland. His post was underwritten and supported by Scotland’s five National Performing Companies, Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera, National Theatre Scotland, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with whom he worked at senior management and board level as well as across the wider teams to embed good health and safety practice.

As well as working on overall health and safety management systems he advised on specific technical aspects of productions, such as the use of a “wall of death” in a National Theatre of Scotland production and the annual Edinburgh Festival Fireworks Concert for Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

He also undertook ground-breaking work with Scotland’s orchestras as well as with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in measuring noise and reducing the risk of noise-related hearing loss for musicians.

His work also significantly benefited the wider theatre sector, working directly with Scotland’s major theatre buildings and touring companies in an advisory capacity, representing the sector in negotiations with licensing officers and the Health and Safety Executive, and delivering the UK’s first ever specialist Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) Managing Safely course for theatre.

He became a Chartered Member of IOSH in 2005 and also devised the UK’s only accredited IOSH Refresher course for theatre practitioners.

He delivered both programmes many times to a wide range of practitioners and this, along with his delivery of health and safety modules as part of undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses at the Royal Conservatoire Scotland and Queen Margaret University, has created a positive culture of good health and safety practice across the Scottish theatre sector

He had many plans for further developing his work with FST before he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in January 2014 and ultimately had to resign shortly before his death on 11 June this year.

Euan’s humanity, charm and personal creativity, as much as his excellent technical knowledge, made him a perfect fit for the performing arts sector and he will be greatly missed. However, his legacy continues, in his writing, his systems and in the many people he trained and influenced.

Outside of his professional life, Euan had a wide range of interests including politics, the environment and hill walking and was a talented amateur photographer.

He had an extremely eclectic taste in music and was for many years the drummer and a driving force behind “funk ceilidh” band, the Tartan Amoebas. He was a devoted father and husband and always ensured his work allowed room for a fulfilling family life.

He is survived by his wife Susie, his daughters Hannah and Freya, his mother Molly, his brother Kevin and his sister Eve.