Throughout my career I have been fortunate to experience event planning and approval on both sides of the Safety Advisory Group (SAG): presenting event plans and assessing event plans - in sports grounds and outdoor events. Legislation differs greatly whether or not an event is inside a venue or out on the street, a stadium or a public park.
When it comes to crowd safety, I noticed inconsisteny in the level of competency between event organisers and SAGs throughout the UK on both sports grounds and outdoor events, which concerned me. Furthermore, when it came to outdoor events (or events outside of sports grounds), there was no legislative instrument designed with the safety of crowd in mind. My concern regarding this inconsistency became the focus of my MSc dissertation, and I wanted to understand the relationship between legislation and regulation on crowd safety, how it impacts the planning and delivery of crowd safety practices and if improvements can be made.
As the frequency of events has increased in the last number of decades (Mussaid et al, 2011) and legislation tightens after each disaster (Elliott and Smith, 1993), the role of crowd safety has increased in importance (Darby et al, 2004). As Crowd Science considers the study of crowd dynamics, density and behaviour (Still, 2000; Raineri, 2016); the need for a specialised approach to develop safety measures for crowds resulted in the crowd safety management approach developing today (Still et al, 2020).
Evolution of the events industry
As the events industry grows in popularity, so does attendance (Abbott and Geddie, 2000). Outdoor events are becoming increasingly common, ranging in size, type and duration (Raineri, 2013). Legislation that governs the safety of crowds has developed significantly in sports grounds but not in outdoor events (Raineri, 2013; Martella et al, 2017). For example, there is currently no legal requirement for an organiser to hold a qualification in order to plan an event for thousands of people to attend. Research shows that, although the proximate cause of a crowd disaster is usually due to overcrowding (Haase et al, 2019), the distal cause of disasters is almost always due to a level of management incompetence or failing to value safety over money (Turner, 1994). Evidence shows that legislation and regulation improve safety (Melrose et al, 2011), however they are normally introduced in reaction to the proximate cause of the disaster, rather than a holistic response to the safety requirements of the subject matter (Smith, 1991; Elliott and Smith, 1993; Johnes, 2007; Tasic, 2019).
Sports stadia disasters in the United Kingdom have been some of the worst crowd incidents to occur in the last century, and most studied; however since the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989 and the subsequent introduction of the Sports Ground Safety Authority (formally Football Licensing Authority), there have been no reported stadia crowd disasters since.
Evolution of legislation
When a crisis occurs, it takes three streams that allow for change; policy, problem and politics (Kodate, 2011). Elliott and Smith (2006) state that politics get involved when the significance of a crisis attracts attention, which leads to examination of causes and effects with the view to learn lessons. Often however, the resulting legislation is designed in reaction to the crisis and fails to examine the system as a whole (Smith, 1990; Elliott and Smith, 2006; Johnes, 2007; Melrose et al, 2011). For example, had the Safety of Sports Ground Act applied to the Third Division when Bradford Stadium Fire occurred, killing 56 people, the fire hazard in the stands would have prevented the stadium from securing a licence (Johnes, 2007).
In the wake of the disaster, the Safety of Sports Ground Act was applied to all football grounds and the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act was passed, with it a host of fire prevention requirements. Since then there have been no fire related stadium disasters. Furthermore, after the Hillsborough Disaster, the Football Spectators Act 1989 introduced legislation for all seater stadiums but did not anticipate the Persistent Standing phenomenon that followed (Melrose et al, 2011). Legislation change in response to disaster is also evident in the development of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, as it was created in response to the Aberfan colliery spoil tip disaster, Wales in 1966.
Politics are intrinsically linked to policy change after a 'focusing event' (Birkland, 1998; Herring, 2009). Political pressure builds which in turn creates or changes policy and the law (Kodate, 2011). According to Birkland (2009), policy change depends on increased media attention, group mobilisation, discussion of ideas and new policies adapted. Policy in the UK changed after 'focusing event' disasters including Ibrox, Hillsborough, Bradford City Fire, and the Manchester Arena Attack. Protect Duty (Martyn’s Law), proposed after the Manchester Arena attack in 2017, gained media traction, was taken forward by government and now in progress to come into law; evidences a “focusing event” and how legislation can be updated due to reactions to disasters (Skopeliti, 2020). Pearl (2016) also argues that legislation is the most appropriate response to reducing crowd incidents.