The Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds


The Fifth Edition of the 'Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds' is an advisory document for use by competent persons and is the distillation of many years of research and experience of the safety management and design of sports grounds (the Guide is available to download from the website of the Department for Culture, Media and Sports).


The Guide has no statutory force but many of its recommendations will be given force of law at individual grounds by their inclusion in General Safety Certificates issued under the 'Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975' or the 'Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sports Act 1987'.


The concept of the 'Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds' is widely attributed to Lord Wheatley who, at paragraph 69 of his Report, said:


"While not seeking to set out a code of practice in the sense of statutory regulations which have to be observed in all cases, I have, with the assistance of the Technical Support Group, provided what should be regarded as guidelines towards a proper standard. I trust that these will be of benefit both to clubs in deciding what they should do in making improvements, and to licensing authorities in deciding what should be looked for".


Lord Wheatley subsequently produced a 'Technical Report' at Appendix A of his Report.


In due course, the First, a revised version of the First, the Second, the Third, Fourth and Fifth editions of the 'Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds' have been produced by Her Majesty's Stationery Office and no respectable Football Safety Officer could function without referring to this publication.


The main paragraph headings in the 'Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds' comprise:

  • Calculating the safe capacity of a sports ground
  • Management - responsibility and planning for safety
  • Management - stewarding
  • Management - structures, installations and components
  • Circulation - general
  • Circulation - ingress
  • Circulation - stairways and ramps
  • Circulation - concourses and vomitories
  • Circulation - egress and emergency evacuation
  • Barriers
  • Spectator accommodation - seating
  • Spectator accommodation - standing
  • Spectator accommodation - disabilities
  • Spectator accommodation - temporary
  • Demountable structures
  • Fire safety
  • Communication
  • Electrical and mechanical services
  • First aid and medical provision
  • Media provision
  • Alternative uses for sports grounds


Notwithstanding an assertion made by Lord Justice Taylor in his Report into the Hillsborough Disaster that "the ultimate control at any match must be that of the police commander", Section D in the Introduction to the 'Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds' emphasises:


"Responsibility for the safety of spectators lies at all times with the ground management. The management will normally be either the owner or lessee of the ground, who may not necessarily be the promoter of the event.


In discharging its responsibility, the management needs to recognise that safety should not be seen as a set of rules or conditions imposed by others, but rather as standards set from within which reflect a safety culture at the sports ground. A positive attitude demonstrated by the management is therefore crucial in ensuring that safety policies are carried out effectively and willingly.


These policies should take into consideration the safety of all spectators, for example, those with disabilities, and children.


Representatives of management cannot, however, be reasonably expected to possess all the technical knowledge and skills required to assess and apply every recommendation in the Guide. Management should therefore, whenever required, seek guidance from competent persons who have the relevant qualifications, skills and experience.


Representatives of the local authority, together with police, fire and ambulance officers, will advise management on how to discharge its responsibility, and, in certain circumstances, may require measures to be taken in order to achieve reasonable safety standards. This does not, however, exonerate the ground management for its responsibility for the safety of spectators.


Although the Guide is not specifically aimed at risks to spectators from the sport itself, management also have a responsibility to take all necessary precautions to safeguard spectators against the effects of accidents in, or originating from, the activity on the pitch, track, or area of activity. Particular care is need when the sport entails the use and storage of flammable fuels".


This quite clearly places a heavy onus on club management everywhere to cheerfully meet their obligations with regard safety. This is not always recognised however, and something else Lord Justice Taylor regrettably felt obliged to say in Paragraph 24 of his Report may still ring true:


"Amazingly, complacency was still to be found even after Hillsborough. It was chilling to hear the same refrain from directors at several clubs I visited - ["Hillsborough was horrible - but, of course, it couldn't have happened here"]. Couldn't it? The Hillsborough ground was regarded by many as one of the best in the country. It was selected by the FA for the cup semi-final and thought by them to be entirely suitable. The identical fixture had passed off uneventfully the previous year. I have little doubt that if the disaster scenario had been described to the management at Hillsborough prior to 15 April, they too would have said ["Of course, it couldn't have happened here"]. Yet something like it had happened at Hillsborough in 1981, albeit with less dire results. Moreover, I am satisfied from eyewitness accounts I have received that there have been many other occasions when overcrowding has led, at various grounds round the country, to a genuine apprehension of impending disaster through crushing, averted only by good fortune. I have heard from Police Commanders at a number of the grounds I visited how relieved they are that capacities have reduced in the interests of safety".


Lord Wheatley also suggested that football grounds should be licensed and said respectively in paragraphs 33, 34 and 35 of his Report:


"The system most widely advocated is the licensing of grounds by a local authority. Such a proposal has been mooted over the years. It finds its place in the Report of the Departmental Committee on Crowds in 1924 and in Mr. Hughes's Report on the Bolton Disaster in 1946. The broad argument in favour of it is as follows. The public pay for admission to a football ground, therefore there is a duty on the club to see that the ground is safe for those who pay for admission. In other fields of entertainment similar considerations have led to a system of licensing by a local authority. There is accordingly no good reason why football grounds should not be similarly dealt with. It would simply mean extending a well-established system to football grounds. To this broad argument there are added particular advantages which it is claimed the proposal has over its competitors. If an application is made for a licence, the local authority would have to be satisfied that all statutory requirements had been observed. They could call for reports as they saw fit from a variety of sources under or connected with their administration. Building inspectors, engineers, sanitary inspectors, surveyors, architects, police and fire officers would be among the disciplines at their disposal. It would presumably be competent for any of these bodies to place before the licensing court objections or considerations. On the other hand the applicant club would be entitled to submit what representations or evidence it chose. The licensing bench would be a local body which would more readily appreciate the various considerations involved. So runs the argument".


These proposals were subsequently adopted in the 'Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975'.


This particular piece of legislation created 'Safety Certificates' in respect of sports grounds with accommodation for more than 10,000 spectators and gave powers of entry and inspection to persons authorised by the local authority, the chief officer of police and the building authority.



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