Public parks, private resorts, amphitheaters, and other outdoor spaces are popular event venues that require inspection and maintenance in order to ensure the safety of visitors. In this article, facilities engineer Edward Gray discusses proper grounds maintenance for preventing trip and fall incidents at outdoor events. He will examine the topic by reviewing a fact pattern from a prior case involving a plaintiff who tripped at an outdoor concert after encountering a hole concealed by straw.
Trips & Falls at Outdoor Venues – Expert Article
Safely Hosting Outdoor Concerts, Festivals and other Events
Transforming a typically open outdoor space into an event venue presents a significant challenge for pedestrian safety. Irregularities in the landscape such as ruts, undulations, and animal burrows, which would normally pose a small but acceptable level of danger, may become unreasonably dangerous as the anticipated exposure to these hazards increases with the number of people occupying the space for the event.
Crowds, noise, and other distractions can contribute to the dangerous condition by diverting pedestrian attention away from surface irregularities that would normally be readily apparent and avoided.
Applying the Safety Hierarchy to Event Venues
In the Accident Prevention Manual, 5th edition, 1964, the National Safety Council identifies the basic measures of the common Safety Hierarchy (Design, Guard, Warn) for preventing accidental injury in the order of effectiveness and preference. In order of priority and protection:
- Eliminate the hazard from the machine, method, material or plant structure.
- Control the hazard by enclosing or guarding it at its source.
- Train personnel to be aware of the hazard and to follow safe job procedures to avoid it.
Implementing administrative controls and providing PPE are important, but lower orders of protection are less relevant to this topic.
The safety hierarchy can be applied to commercial facilities, including event venues, in the same way that it would be applied to industrial machinery and consumer products. The first step would include performing a hazard analysis to understand the hazards that are present across the environment, the probability of exposure, and the severity of the outcome resulting from exposure. The hazard analysis would be part of routine property inspections and also performed during special inspections, such as maintenance or repair calls.
In the example of an outdoor venue, any identified hazards would be subject to the design (eliminate), guard (control), warn (train) hierarchy:
- Eliminate – Is it possible to remove the hazard from the environment?
Within the context of trip hazards, the answer is often yes. High spots can be re-graded, divots can be filled and tamped, and miscellaneous trip hazards can be removed. If a hazard cannot be eliminated due to time or environmental constraints, guarding should be considered.
- Control – In the instance that a trip hazard cannot be eliminated from the environment, it can often be guarded against through the use of fencing or other barriers. It is crucial that any guarding methods used are conspicuous, sufficiently robust to provide protection, and do not introduce additional hazards to the environment.
- Train – Staff should be made aware of the hazard, trained on how to safely avoid it and to provide a safe environment for guests of the premises. Warnings should be provided for any hazards that cannot be eliminated from the environment. In an outdoor venue this may be achieved through signage, high visibility barriers, and other methods.
Case Example: Trip on Hole at Outdoor Venue
The plaintiff in this case was injured at an outdoor concert when she encountered a hole in the ground, lost her balance, and broke her ankle in the course of falling. The hole that caused her fall was covered by straw at the time of the incident. Robson Forensic was retained to determine if the premises was unreasonably dangerous on the day of the incident.
The venue for this concert was on a field at the base of a hill that was not typically utilized for gatherings or subject to congested pedestrian traffic. As such, the venue space contained various potential trip hazards including natural surface undulations, ruts caused by erosion, and scattered rocks and stones. Following two days of rain, venue operators spread straw along pedestrian paths to treat muddy conditions, but did not address other recognizable hazards in the environment.
In accordance with established standards for event management, the venue operators had a responsibility to ensure that the areas designated for public assembly were free from trip hazards, such as holes and ruts. Our expert’s opinion supported that the venue manager should have remediated the holes and eroded areas with soil, and addressed other hazards in and around the venue. Our expert specifically noted that straw should not have been used as a top layer above ground surface irregularities due to it concealing hazards from pedestrian view.
The venue operator’s use of straw to mitigate muddy conditions was dangerous and created a trap by concealing surface irregularities. The standard of care for treating muddy conditions at outdoor events calls for the use of sand or sawdust, possibly matting or plywood over badly affected areas, but specifically prohibits the use of straw or hay which have the propensity to conceal other hazards in the landscape.
To support his opinions, our expert cited standards from the National Safety Council and recognized authorities on event planning and organization.
Facilities Engineering Investigations
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Facilities Engineering Expert
Ed Gray is a Facilities Mechanical, Chief Marine Engineer and Patented Inventor with over 36 years combined career experience. After earning his Federal Chief Engineer license in the U.S. Merchant Marine, Ed applied his hands-on operating experience to shoreside Facilities/Buildings operations within various industries. Ed’s experience includes school facilities, plant management, pharmaceutical facilities maintenance, and healthcare facilities operations. His diverse professional background applies to a broad range of systems, environments, tools, equipment, and circumstances.