I just had to have the same conversation three times regarding "You shouldn't chase your sister near the big glass cabinets"
In the first instance the children stopped, and the parents backed me up with a sorry smile and "Come over here, don't do that."
In the second instance, the parents were in another room entirely, with a closed door between them and their children aged about 4 and 7. "Sorry, we didn't realise they had slipped in there."
In the third instance they were in the same room, and could see the children. I asked the parents "I really don't want to administer any first aid today. Please make sure they understand about all of the glass in here."
The parents were well dressed, well spoken, and apparently utterly indifferent to, or blissfully unaware of, the impact their children were having on other visitors, and also the potential hazard of allowing very young children to run around a museum.
This happened yesterday, and I bring it up because kids and accidents are a big topic at present.
I don't know enough about the gorilla incident to comment on it, but have seen so many things in museums, galleries and historic venues which relate to this debate* I think it's worth a quick chat about safety. By and large, it boils down to: weigh up the chances, put appropriate measures in place, always assume you will get a few idiots, don't let them spoil it.
Recently we had some work done on a raised area, allowing visitors to look down at a display. Before the area opened to the public, we were assessing the installed toughened glass and metal barriers in place and these opinions arose.
- Most staff "It's fine, as an adult it's good elbow resting height, and it's hard to topple over it unless you try."
- Staff with kids "It's fine, but on this corner kids may slip their feet under the glass."
- Health and Safety "Really there should be a full height screen, ideally ceiling height to stop anyone throwing things over the top. This barrier; kids can climb over, adults may over balance, and parents holding kids may drop them."
As you may guess, opinion number 3 made everyone do a double take. A lot of complex discussions had to take place. We already had these barriers, so would we have to replace them? Would we have to attach something to the top of them?
In the end, there was compromise. The barriers remained as installed, a metal plate was attached to extend the edge of the raised area where we thought kids may get feet stuck, and we have an age restriction on unaccompanied minors. We concluded that the majority of visitors would be responsible, for both themselves and anyone in their charge, and if anything did happen, it could be safely said that we had weighed up the chances and felt we had appropriate measures in place.
Because weighing up the chances and putting appropriate measures in place are all you can do as a public venue.
What visitors do you expect? What behaviors do you expect from them? Talk to different people to get different viewpoints about visitor behavior because, as we discovered, parents may well spot issues none-parents won't. What could that visitor behavior lead to? How likely is that to happen? How great would any repercussions be? What could you put in place to prevent or limit these? What impact would that have on other areas such as visitor enjoyment? Periodically you should reassess areas - are measures still appropriate? If a near miss happens - are measures still appropriate?
No matter what you do, kids will be curious, people will trip over, morons will be risky and you just have to be confident that you have been realistic, and made decisions based on the best evidence available. After this comes honesty. If something does happen, you can either honestly say that you didn't see it coming, or you can honestly say that you made the decision you thought right at the time.
As with maths, show your working out, and it'll go a long way to demonstrate why you haven't bubble wrapped your venue.