Posted on 9/26/2013 12:14 PM by Jack Rubinger and Mauricio Espinosa

Prevent accidents in football stadiumsAre fans getting more careless at football games? Since 2003, there have more than two dozen cases of fans falling at stadiums across the United States, according to Alana Penza, program manager for the Institute of Sports Incidents at the University of Southern Mississippi. A recent fan fatality occurred just outside the San Francisco 49er’s stadium.

Are stadiums poorly designed? Are we distracted by enormous ads, pyrotechnics, and other impressive visuals?

Stadium safety is good for business and stadium facility managers are really missing an opportunity to make safety more of a concern and prevent these tragic and often senseless accidents.

Here are tips for improving football stadium safety:

  • Stairs are a primary cause of accidents in buildings and public spaces. We recommend using slip-resistant materials at all edges, with clear, visible markings on landings.
  • In the US, guardrails and handrails are designed around the "average" range of people's heights, weights, and centers of mass. Additional provisions exist for children and small adults which typically governs the size of holes and perforations in assemblies. There is a tendency for fans to use guardrails and handrails inappropriately -- like sitting or standing atop of an assembly. Design measures which deter a fan from climbing can be used. Consider vertical pickets over horizontal ones, place the public away from the balustrade edge by several inches, and consider increasing the height of guardrails above minimum code standards.
  • If a new stadium is planned, consider keeping the structure out of areas which may be hit harder by Mother Nature, including high wind valleys, waterways, wind corridors, fault zones, high seismic areas, or high fire-hazard areas. Consider structural and fire upgrades to bring stadiums up to code.
  • Exit paths should be properly sized and identified with signage. Size requirements are crucial during emergency situations. Longer fan waiting times also pose a number of problems, including: impatience, hostility, or high stress situations where fans begin to interact negatively with other teams’ fans. Consider increasing exit paths, doors, and overall load levels beyond minimum code requirements to minimize waiting.
  • Seating is a balance between views, higher occupancy / ticket sales, safety, acoustics, and structure. One item often overlooked in design is the importance that, should a fan fall forward into a neighboring section, there should be a break or landing in their fall. Consider additional landing areas which can help temper a catastrophic fall.
  • Slips are deadly. When designing "wet" areas, including: restrooms, lockers, areas near food and beverage, and even wet circulation zones in areas prone to a higher rainfall, consider slip-resistant materials and proper lighting and drainage. Be sure to have a maintenance plan which ensures that these areas are performing properly over time.
  • Be bold with your signs and labels. Study fan behavior and see where and when people may be putting themselves at risk. Then, determine what they need to know about distances and directions. Make sure your message makes sense for the situation. Apply labels to fit tightly on railings and other surfaces. Photoluminescent labels which can be seen in the dark during power outages and wayfinding signs and labels are a great idea for stadiums. For behind the scenes work at these facilities, pipe marking labels indicating the directional flow of hazardous fluids and gases, and signs warning people to keep their distance from electrical cables also provide safety benefits. Finally, consider how many labels are needed to drive home the point.

Jack Rubinger is an industrial copywriter for Graphic Products, which specializes in thermal transfer printers.

Mauricio Espinosa, RA AIA NCARB, is the founding principal of Burgeoning, a Los Angeles-based architecture studio specializing in sustainable design.