The recent Winter Olympic Games and the conclusion of the Six Nations rugby were just two of many sporting events, large and small, that have been welcoming back fans (in accordance with local laws and restrictions) over the last several weeks. As we continue to live with COVID-19, it is crucial that organisers of sporting and other events are aware of health and safety requirements and their duty of care towards attendees.
Key legal provisions
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 ("the 1974 Act") is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in Great Britain. It sets out the general duties employers (and the self-employed) have towards employees and the public, and the duties that employees have to themselves and each other. The Occupiers' Liability (Scotland) Act 1960 also imposes liability on an occupier for injury or damage suffered by a person as a consequence of something the occupier did (or omitted to do).
Health and safety considerations for event hosts and organisers
The 1974 Act dictates that the working environment for employees must be safe and without risk to health, so far as is reasonably practicable. An employer is also responsible for ensuring that members of the public are not exposed to health risks.
In the context of sporting events, event hosts and organisers will similarly be under a duty to plan, manage and monitor the event to make sure any person attending is not exposed to risks to their health and safety. This means that it is the host or organiser's responsibility to ensure that there are sufficient protections and procedures in place (including any relevant COVID-19 protection measures that are legally required) to mitigate any health and safety risks to staff, participants, and the public who are attending the event.
Health and safety considerations where volunteers are involved
A sports organisation that has employees is required to comply with the 1974 Act.
Where a club is run by volunteers (with no employees), the 1974 Act won't apply, but the club/volunteers will have a legal duty to ensure any premises (for example, a club house, pavilion, playing field, etc) under their control are safe for use by the participants and spectators, so far as reasonably practicable. The extent of the duty imposed by the law will depend on the level of control the club/volunteers have over the premises concerned. They will be expected to keep the premises and any equipment provided in good repair.
The obligation to ensure a person's safety ‘so far as reasonably practicable’ means that the level of risk must be balanced against the measures needed to control risk, taking into account the money, time or trouble involved in mitigating that risk.
Due to the obligation to ensure that spectators and the wider public are not exposed to health and safety risks, event organisers must put sufficient crowd control measures in place. This is not a consideration only relevant for the duration of the event – risk assessments must have regard to the lead-up to the event and must remain in place until the spectators have safely left the premises. This would involve matters such as safe entrances and exits, walkways being free from hazards, determining the venue’s safe capacity, and having a crowd management plan in place.
What if I am hiring a location or facility?
If you are hiring a location to play sport or hold an event then you may have some duties to manage risk, as far as reasonable practicable. Again, the extent of these duties will depend on the degree of control that you have over the premises and any equipment on the premises.
However the legal obligation is not exclusively an issue for the club/organisation hiring a location or facility. It is important to remember that the owners of the facility or location must also ensure that the environment is safe for use. The owners cannot simply ignore health and safety considerations (because the event is being run by a third party) – there will be an ongoing duty to ensure that there are sufficient procedures and planning in place, and that the premises and any equipment provided are in good condition.
For more information, please contact Kevin Clancy, Partner and health and safety specialist, at email@example.com, Matt Phillip, Partner and Head of Sports Law, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or your usual Shepherd and Wedderburn contact.