An overview of the regulatory and legislative framework for sports ground & stadia safety in the UK

Published 25 June 2019 | Authored by: Chris Bond

This LawInSport feature article will be of interest to anyone who is, or may be, involved with ensuring or managing sports ground safety, whether in relation to stadia design, safety certification, day-to-day management of a sports ground or sports club, or supervision of staff responsible for crowd management.

This article intends to act as a short guide to the regulatory and legislative framework for sports ground safety in the UK, taking into account the recent updates to the Sports Ground Safety Authority1 (SGSA) Green Guide (6th edition).2 Specifically it:

  • Highlights the various parties which may have legal responsibilities for compliance with safety laws;

  • Reviews and explains the main provisions of legislation specifically governing safety at sports grounds;

  • Examines other general legal obligations which are likely to be relevant to safety at stadiums;

  • Considers the applicable common law duties of care; and

  • Examines the potential consequences of non-compliance.

Who is responsible for Complying with Safety Requirements?

There are numerous parties which may have, or share, responsibilities for compliance with safety requirements at sports stadia. Guidance3 from the SGSA states that the “management of a sports ground are responsible for the safety of all those at the ground” (and that this applies on both event days and non-event days).4 However, this does not address the possibility that there might be several entities and, therefore, several management teams and individuals, involved in different aspects of the management of any ground.

In practice, which party has primary responsibility for compliance with statutory requirements will usually be governed by the relevant statute. However, where the functions in relation to stadium ownership, operation and management are carried out by different parties, this can be difficult to determine. For instance, which company is the “employer” who owes duties under health and safety legislation (see further below) may not be clear, because it is relatively common for the employment of some roles to be contracted to third parties, for example, stewards and security guards. Stadium owners/operators/managers may, therefore, need to consider whether they are, in fact, the employer for the purposes of these obligations.

Nevertheless, there will likely be broader “duty of care” obligations (see further below) which may well extend beyond relatively narrow obligations for employers, or other specified parties under applicable legislation, in any event. For example, the role of sports clubs, engineers, stadium designers, construction companies, parties involved in safety certification and stadium staff, could be relevant.

Safety at Sports Grounds – Specific Legislation and Guidance for Sports Grounds

A sports ground is defined under UK legislation as a place where sports or other competitive activities take place in the open air (therefore excluding indoor arenas) and where accommodation is provided for spectators, including artificial structures, or natural structures artificially modified for the purpose.5

Sports grounds with a spectator capacity of more than 10,000 people (5,000 in the case of Football League grounds) must be certified under the Safety at Sports Grounds Act 1975 (commonly referred to as a Safety at Sports Ground Certificate). Safety certificates are also required under the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987, which includes requirements for sports grounds to provide covered accommodation in certain stands for spectators, which are not designated as sports grounds (i.e. which have not been designated by the Secretary of State as having a spectator capacity of more than 10,000 people).6

Safety certificates are issued by the local authority where the ground is based. They set out the terms and conditions which the local authority considers necessary or expedient to secure reasonable safety at the sports ground when it is in use for the specified activity or activities under the certificate.7 They typically state the specific activities permitted at the sports ground, maximum capacities allowed and any other specific requirements to ensure public safety and compliance with national guidance and legislation. They also include a plan of the ground and the terms and conditions must be framed, where appropriate, by reference to the plan.8 The SGSA guidance to local authorities on safety certification notes that many conditions should now fall within the operations manual, produced by ground management following risk assessments and attached as a schedule to the certificate.9 However, old-style certificates, with prescriptive conditions, are still in force for some sports grounds.

For sports grounds which are football stadia, there is a mandatory requirement that they are all-seated (under Orders made under the authority of the Football Spectators Act 1989, such as the Football Spectators (Seating) Order 1994). Further details on the background to this legislation are set out in the earlier LawinSport article referred to above.10

In addition to the legal framework, the Guide to safety at sports grounds (Green Guide) is the official guidance provided on spectator safety in sports grounds.11 Recommendations are made in relation to: calculating the safe capacity of a sports ground; management responsibility and planning for safety; management of stewarding; management of structures, installations and components; circulation (general, on entry, for stairways and gangways, in concourses and vomitories, on exit and emergency evacuation); barriers; seating and standing accommodation (and temporary structures); fire safety; communications (including telephone, public address and CCTV); electrical and mechanical services; first aid and medical provision; media provision; and alternative uses (such as concerts and/or firework displays).

The safe capacity of the ground is likely to be important and this may be of particular interest given recent reports that official attendance figures seem to be inconsistent with figures from local authorities and police.12 Ensuring an accurate method of calculation as to actual attendance figures is perhaps as important as calculating what the safe capacity is, in order that such safe capacity is not exceeded in practice.

The Green Guide provides that ground management must appoint an occupationally competent safety officer.13 Safety officers must be competent, recognised as being in overall control of operational safety management on event days, have the authority to make safety-related decisions, be accountable to and with direct access to management with ultimate responsibility for safety and must be easily identifiable and contactable.14

The Green Guide is not statutory, therefore non-compliance with the guide is not, of itself, an offence. However, in practice, many of its recommendations have been incorporated into safety certificates for individual grounds and, to this extent, compliance is mandatory, because non-compliance with a safety certificate is an offence under the Safety at Sports Ground Act 197515 or the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 198716 (as applicable).

The Green Guide does not only apply to football stadia, but also covers sports such as athletics, cricket, equestrian events, tennis, hockey, rugby, horse racing, motor racing (for which there is a specific guide from the HSE)17, greyhound racing, golf and American Football.18

Even where its provisions are not themselves conditions, or indeed where sports stadia is not certified, the guide is likely to be of significant persuasive weight in any proceedings, enforcement action or threatened enforcement action for non-compliance with safety requirements. The guide advises the managers/owners of sport grounds to consult with the local authority, the fire brigade, the ambulance service and the police in relation to safety issues. It also makes clear that management needs to recognise that safety should be seen as standards set from within which reflect a safety culture at the sports ground and policies should take into consideration the safety of all spectators, including, for example, those with disabilities, the elderly, families and children.19

The SGSA have recently published the new sixth edition of the Green Guide. The updates reflect the developments in the way grounds are designed and managed and will build further on the experience of SGSA. SGSA has commented that there were several key issues relating to security which have arisen since publication of the previous fifth edition (in 2008), including a step change in security threats, the use of dual purpose seating, challenging designs and a change towards risk-based safety management and certification (as opposed to standard prescriptive conditions, as discussed above).20

Other Obligations Also Applicable to Sports Stadiums

While a general safety certificate issued under either Act is in force in relation to a sports ground, the statutory provisions that would ordinarily apply to the safety of platforms (or similar) erected or used on public occasions21 and the statutory provisions that would ordinarily apply to public health requirements around exits and entrances to certain public and other buildings22 do not apply to that sports ground.23 However, there are a number of other general obligations and guidance documents relating to safety which are likely to be particularly relevant to the operation of sports stadiums.

General Health and Safety Law

In addition to obligations under legislation applying specifically to sports grounds, there are general legal responsibilities in relation to health and safety which will be applicable and relevant to safety at UK sports grounds. Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, all employers have two distinct legal responsibilities: firstly, to ensure the safety of their employees24 and, secondly, to conduct their undertakings in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment who may be affected (including, for example, contractors and spectators) are not exposed to risks to their health or safety.25

The existence and maintenance of health and safety policies and risk assessments are important to ensure compliance with these obligations (a health and safety policy is a legal requirement)26. In preparing and considering such policies and assessments, it may also be appropriate to have regard to responsibilities under secondary legislation, including:

  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, SI 1999/3242

  • Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, SI 1992/3004

  • Building Act 1984

  • Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, SI 2005/1541

  • Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, SI 2012/632

  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 SI 1998/2306

  • The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 SI 2015/1693

  • Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 SI 2013/1471

  • Noise at Work Regulations 1989 SI 1989/1790

  • Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 SI 1998/2451

All employers are required under health and safety regulations to carry out risk assessments, make arrangements to implement necessary measures, appoint competent people and arrange for appropriate information and training.27 Other regulations require floors to be suitable, in good condition and free from obstruction, with people able to move around safely.28 Directors are expected to follow guidance issued by the HSE and the Institute of Directors (IoD), entitled Leading Health and Safety at Work.29

Every sports stadium is likely to have a different risk profile and will, therefore, be expected to take different steps to guard against risk. Any precautions taken should be proportionate to the size of the business and the likelihood of the risk materialising. However, all stadium operators and managers would be well-advised to take safety duties seriously and put in place tailor-made strategies to combat risk. The best way to safeguard a company’s reputation and commercial success against breach of health and safety legislation is to ensure that a robust risk management strategy has been implemented. This should involve the following steps:

  • Identify all the possible hazards

  • Evaluate the risk and decide on the relevant precautions to be taken

  • Put identified precautions into practice

  • Monitor and regularly review assessments and actions30

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publishes a short guide to health and safety regulation which includes a list of important pieces of health and safety legislation at Appendix 1, covering all workplaces and particular areas of risk. This covers the use of equipment and laws relating to the construction, maintenance and management of premises. The HSE also publishes a guide for organisers at events and venues on managing crowds safely which gives practical advice and sets out different approaches that may be adopted at a range of events. The guidance examines broad safety issues that will be relevant to sports stadiums, such as safety planning, risk assessment, implementation of precautionary measures and emergency procedures, and also covers the specific matters of communication and crowd monitoring.31

Compliance with HSE guides is not mandatory, but they are a useful source of information. Furthermore, if a stadium operator or manager can show that they follow such guidance, it will likely be persuasive evidence in the event of an alleged breach of the legal requirements.

Work at Height and Construction Regulations

Safety obligations likely to be relevant for stadiums are also included in regulations governing construction, design and management.32 The HSE issues guidance on temporary demountable structures, including seating, which sets out the role of the “event organiser” as the client for the purposes of the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015, and on the selection and use of equipment to support speaker clusters, lights etc., used during outdoor events.

Work carried out at height is also likely to be an important consideration. In 2009, there was a specific review of work at height practices by the broadcasting industry in sports stadiums used by UK Premier and Scottish Premier Football Leagues,33 but this is, of course, an issue common across a variety of sports stadiums/uses, because much of the construction and maintenance work at stadiums is carried out at height.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 require that all work at height is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people and that appropriate access is provided. Prosecutions for work at height breaches are commonly reported and, therefore, stadiums should ensure that they have robust systems for compliance in place. The HSE has produced a short guide on compliance with the requirements34 which provides a useful summary of matters which should be taken into account when planning work at height.

Fire Safety

Fire safety is also an important consideration for sports stadiums, and should form part of any safety reviews undertaken by management. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires that the responsible person takes fire precautions to ensure that the premises are safe and to carry out a risk assessment and keep it updated, including putting in place procedures to comply with its recommendations.35 The government has collated online a suite of documents and guidance relating to fire safety law for business which is a useful source of reference. A guide has also been produced for large “places of assembly” (where more than 300 people could gather) which includes a number of recommendations on fire risk assessments and fire precautions.

Terrorism

Responsibilities under health and safety law and general duties of care are likely to be relevant to ensuring that sports stadiums take reasonable steps to guard against risks of terrorism. The National Counter Terrorism Security Office launched a “Know the Game Plan initiative in summer, with police and clubs giving stewards information to help deter terrorism and fans being reminded to report any security concerns to stewards or other staff.

Advice from local police forces to venues in the wake of the Manchester Arena attack advised businesses to review their security plans and consider any appropriate changes that need to be made, to ensure security staff and management were appropriately trained (now known as ACT awareness training). They also advised entertainment venues to extend attention from their own curtilage/secured area, to the immediate vicinity of major exits, especially prior to any interval or the conclusion of the event. This is good general advice which can be referred to by stadium management, alongside government guidance on protecting crowded places from terrorism and HSE advice on planning for incidents and emergencies.

The SGSA has also previously issued key messages in relation to venue safety connected to terrorism.36 Given the comments of SGSA in relation to the step change in security threats since the last issue of the Green Guide referred to above, we anticipate that the 6th issue will include additional content to address safety risks connected with terrorism.

Work Related Violence

The HSE publishes a toolkit and guidance in relation to the risk of workplace violence in licensed premises such as pubs/clubs and retail premises, which contains a useful summary of potential issues, such as disagreements between customers and customers who are drunk, and precautions that can be taken to guard against the risks identified.37 Although not specifically aimed at stadiums, stadiums are licensed premises and many of the issues discussed and associated compliance obligations, will be relevant to the management of health and safety risks for stadium staff. However, the HSE also publishes a case study in relation to violence at work for sports grounds which sets out measures which can reduce the risk around training, the work environment and job design.

Occupiers’ Liability

Apart from health and safety legislation, occupiers of sports grounds and stadia will owe statutory duties to their visitors under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 (OLA 1957). These duties arise in respect of the state of land and buildings themselves (such as the condition of seating, exposed electricity cables, or the failure to adequately light corridors and stairs), rather than any activities carried out on or within them.

OLA 1957 provides that occupiers of land (which may include owners, operators and/or managers) owe a common duty to take such care as is in all circumstances reasonable to ensure that visitors (for example, spectators, sports teams, the media, etc.) will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which they are invited by the occupier. This means that an occupier must avoid creating risks itself but must also take reasonable steps to protect visitors from risks which it did not create. What is “reasonable” in the circumstances will depend on all of the facts, including foreseeability of harm on the part of the occupier, how obvious the danger would be to a visitor, how easy it would be for the occupier to remove the risk, and whether the visitor in question is a child.

Where the occupier warns visitors of risks, it may be used as evidence that the occupier has discharged its duty of care, provided that, in all of the circumstances, the warning (for example, a written sign) was enough to allow the visitor to be reasonably safe. Although OLA 1957 provides that a visitor may restrict its liability by agreement with, or notice to, visitors, subsequent legislation (in particular, the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015) means that liability under OLA for death or personal injury cannot be excluded.

OLA 1957 only covers the safety of visitors (i.e. those who are present with the consent of the occupier). The Occupiers Liability Act 1984 provides that occupiers owe a similar duty of care towards trespassers.

Licensing and Consumption of Alcohol

The consumption of alcohol by spectators at sports grounds, or before visiting sports grounds, is common. It can be a significant risk factor and should be considered when assessing risks to health and safety (and workplace violence as discussed above).

Of course, the sale of alcohol is also common at sports grounds. The general operation of licensed premises in England and Wales is governed by the Licensing Act 2003, where any of the following licensable activities are taking place:

  • The sale by retail of alcohol, or the supply of alcohol by or on behalf of a club to a club member and/or their guest(s)38

  • The provision of regulated entertainment (for example, the playing of live or recorded music, performances of dance, performance of a play, an exhibit of a film, sporting event)39

  • The supply of hot food or drink between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., for consumption on or off the premises (this will include mobile food vans)40

Many sports grounds are licensed by the local authority for one, or more, of these activities. In deciding whether a licence should be granted, the legislation sets out four overarching aims, or “licensing objectives”, which the licensing authority is required by law to have regard to: the prevention of crime and disorder; the promotion of public safety; prevention of public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm.41 Public safety must, therefore, be promoted by the licence holder in order for the premises to obtain and retain a licence. In the event that a licence condition is breached, the licence can be reviewed by the local authority and there are powers of suspension and revocation in appropriate circumstances.42

Guidance to Licensing Authorities, issued by the Home Office under the authority of the legislation, contains detailed advice on the promotion of public safety as a licensing objective.43 This Guidance is statutory and, therefore, licensing authorities must have regard to its provisions as a matter of law.

In addition to the general controls under licensing legislation, the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985 still has effect so far as it remains an offence for a person to have alcohol or a relevant article (such as a can, bottle or other portable drinks container) in his possession when in an area of a designated sports ground from which the event may be directly viewed (or when entering a designated sports ground during the period of a designated sports event). The period of a designated sporting event for this offence is two hours before the start of the event up to one hour after the end of the event. These times apply to all public areas. However, for a private room (from which designated sporting events may be viewed) the period of a designated sporting event is 15 minutes before the event and up to 15 minutes after.44

Security Industry Authority

Stewards and security guards are commonly employed by, or contracted to work at, sports stadiums to help ensure safety (and, indeed, the Green Guide includes numerous provisions in relation to the use of stewards and security personnel). Individuals undertaking “manned guarding” activities require authorisation from the Security Industry Authority (SIA) under the provisions of the Private Security Industry Act 2001. There are exclusions from the requirements for in house employees when carrying out duties in connection with their employer’s use of a certified sports ground or certified sports stand for purposes for which its safety certificate has effect.45 However, a licence will still be required by contracted staff (as they are not in-house) and, indeed, where the ground is used for other purposes, such as a music event.

Duties of Care Under Common Law

In addition to regulatory requirements addressing safety, general liability concepts such as negligence can be applied to circumstances relevant to the safety of spectators, employees and others at or in the vicinity of sports stadiums. Numerous parties involved with the ownership, operation and/or management of the stadium may owe a duty of care to various parties connected with their undertakings and who may be exposed to safety risks (see discussion above as to the responsibilities for compliance).

Under the UK common law, for a negligence claim to succeed, claimants must show that the defendant owed them a duty of care and they have suffered injury through a breach of that duty. They must also be able to show that the type of loss or injury for which financial damages (or “compensation”) are being claimed was foreseeable. The greater the known risk of a particular safety issue, the more foreseeable it is and the more onerous a duty will fall upon those involved in the various aspects of a sports stadium’s operation. Establishing liability will depend on the circumstances of the case and a three-stage test will be applied:

  • The harm must be a “reasonably foreseeable” result of the defendant’s conduct

  • A relationship of “proximity” must exist between the defendant and the claimant

  • It must be “fair, just and reasonable” to impose liability

Previously, in cases where spectators have been injured when attending events, the courts have drawn a distinction between exposure to the ordinary risks associated with presence at an event, which the spectator must expect to run (which will not usually entail liability for the organiser), and extraordinary dangers/perils to which the spectator is exposed in cases where the organiser acts without proper regard to the safety of spectators (which will entail liability).

These issues have been explored previously in LawInSport, in an article dealing with liability for spectator safety in sport.46

Consequences of Non-compliance

In the event that safety requirements are not complied with, there is clear risk of injury and even loss of life to individuals, whether spectators, employees or others (such as contractors). In addition to those risks are risks to reputation. In the event of an incident connected with safety, it is likely that the stadium operators, the sports club and others, will face public scrutiny. In the event of loss of life, a coroner’s inquest will take place. In the event of a major incident, the circumstances surrounding that incident may also be the subject of a public inquiry.

Perhaps secondary to those risks are the risks of enforcement action by authorities if legal requirements have not been complied with. These typically include powers of prosecution which could be exercised against an organisation/company or against individual directors. There are numerous offences under the various regimes summarised above. For example, it is an offence if a designated sports ground is used for an activity needing a Safety Certificate, where either no application has been made for such a certificate or where the application has been, or is deemed to have been, withdrawn or if any terms or conditions of a General Safety Certificate or Special Safety Certificate have been contravened.47 Generally, where an enforcement authority considers the condition to be such that the public will be at serious risk, it may issue a notice prohibiting or restricting the use of all or part of the ground.48

There are also numerous offences for breach of health and safety laws, licensing laws, security industry legislation and fire safety provisions. Where a serious breach of law has occurred, a prosecuting authority would be likely to take a particular interest where it could be shown that there had been a flagrant disregard of health and safety or other obligations, such as a failure to heed warnings by relevant authorities, or where it is suspected that the offender is likely to repeat breaches or has a poor record of compliance.

Sentencing guidelines are now in force for health and safety offences and corporate manslaughter.49 Under these guidelines, fines for health and safety breaches are linked to an organisation’s turnover. For organisations with turnover exceeding £50 million per annum, fines for serious cases are very likely to exceed £1 million.

Where there is a civil claim for damages in connection with an alleged breach of a duty of care/negligence, the claimant will ask the court to award a sum by way of compensation for the alleged loss/injury.

Conclusion

In light of the potential serious consequences of non-compliance with safety requirements for UK sports stadiums, conducting robust risk assessments, implementing control measures and identifying and monitoring those control measures to check that they remain effective is not just good practice – it is essential. Compliance with legislation governing stadium safety specifically and health and safety legislation generally is legally required and is necessary, not just to ensure that spectators are provided with a safe environment, but also to protect the business and reputation of the stadium/sports club.

As already stated, every sports stadium will likely carry a different set of risks. However, there are some key issues which will be relevant for many sports stadiums and some common steps that owners/operators/managers of stadiums should take in the interests of best practice, such as:

  • Ensuring ongoing compliance with the General Safety Certificate and any Special Safety Certificate and regular review of the certificate(s) to ensure they remain in line with the actual operation of the sports ground

  • Ensuring that safe capacities are calculated correctly and reviewed and that attendances are accurately recorded

  • The preparation and regular review of full risk assessments – taking into account general public safety, fire safety, crowd control, violence at work, work at height, temporary structures and terrorism – to identify potential hazards posed to staff, spectators and others, setting out precautions to manage the hazards and any appropriate limits on maximum capacity

  • Maintaining a written policy to deal with all types of accidents and emergency incidents – the policy should be based on the risk assessments and might include matters such as emergency management, contingency planning and evacuation procedures in the event of fire, bomb threats or suspect packages and when to contact emergency services; evacuation responsibilities and roles should be clearly communicated to staff, routes and exits should be well defined and evacuation plans exercised regularly

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About the Author

Chris Bond

Chris Bond

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Chris is the Editor at LawInSport, and takes responsibility for the review of content in conjunction with the Editorial Board. Prior to joining LawInSport, Chris graduated from Nottingham University, and trained and worked as a litigation lawyer at King & Wood & Mallesons SJ Berwin.

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