Íse Murphy

#2. Legislation, Regulation and Crowd Safety

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.

Regulatory Decision Making

To understand why legislation is updated or developed in reaction to specific disaster rather than considering the system as a whole, the role of decision making was considered. According to Rozenblit and Keil (2002) the Illusion Of Explanatory Depth (IOED) explains a person’s overconfidence in believing they fully understand a phenomenon, yet in reality are unable to fully explain the entire set of links in a causal chain. Tasic (2009) further explains that this may lead regulators to believe they are aware of the relevant causes and consequences, grasping the first link in a causal chain and giving it special status without knowing full details of the chain (Ahn et al, 2000). However, Elliott and McGuinness (2002) argue that the limited terms of reference in public inquiry often focus on operational, proximate cause, issues. This narrative correlates with strategies in learning from disaster where ‘single-loop learning’ involves self-evaluation on an operational level (Argyris and Schön, 1996) and ‘double-loop learning’ goes deeper and involves fundamental learning at a policy and institutional level (Birkland, 2009). The error is seeing the cause-and-consequence activity (proximate cause of the disaster), conclude an immediate level of explanation (single-loop learning) and believe there is no more to consider (Tasic, 2009).

Enforced v Self Regulation

According to Lindoe et al (2011), enforced regulation and a capacity for regulators to implement sanctions, makes a substantial impact on the reduction of incidents and accidents. This can be seen in reality, as since the introduction of the SGSA (formally Football Licensing Authority) in 1989, there have been no notable crowd disasters in stadia in England and Wales. However, recently in Scotland, where the SSGA75 applies but the SGSA do not have authority, an independent review of football policing conducted in 2019 highlighted that there is “currently a gap above SAGs for a body that mandates and inspects to a set, consistent safety regime while also acting as a vehicle to support practitioners and promulgate good practice and emerging issues” (Roberts, 2019:13). The report added that this _lack of oversight poses a significant risk to the safety of spectator_s.

In contrast to stadia, as there is no specific legislation for outdoor events, there is no framework for the regulation of crowd safety. The Moelwyn-Hughes inquiry after the Bolton Stadium disaster (Moelwyn-Hughes, 1946:12) stated ‘safety measures cannot be secured without legislation’. However, after this disaster, a self-regulating licence system was introduced, which proved to be unsuccessful. Records show 17 serious incidents occurred, including four at Ibrox Stadium Glasgow, of which the fourth triggered the Wheatley inquiry (Elliott and Smith, 2006; Ball-King et al, 2012). The Wheatley inquiry into the Ibrox Stadium Disaster (1971) called for legislation (SSGA75) and the introduction of a regulatory body (SGSA). Furthermore, the lack of governance by the football authorities in upholding minimal standards and history of allowing self-regulation was also part to blame for the Hillsborough Disaster (Fitzpatrick, 2014). Self-regulation may have worked in industries where companies are expert in their field but for football, it represented misplaced trust, where clubs were not experts in crowd management nor did they hire experts to support them (Johnes, 2007).

Safety Culture

Pidgeon (1997) highlights that lack of ‘safety culture’; where an organisation of people adopt a set of beliefs and update and maintain these beliefs about safety (Olive et al, 2006), is imperative to the cause of disaster; regardless of regulation in place. Olive et al (2006) claim that cultivating a positive safety culture at the managerial level is more likely to minimise accidents than at other levels. Upon the investigation into the Piper Alpha tragedy, it was noted by Cullen (1990) that no amount of regulation could have made up for failings in the safety management of the operators. However, the recommendations point towards the requirement for safety management systems and a positive attitude towards safety from the top down. In addition, to improve safety through regulation, research shows that by separating reporting structures into different regulatory bodies, increases compliance and improves organisational learning (Pidgeon and O’Leary, 2000; Le Coze, 2013), as detecting a disaster is not an issue, detecting near misses is the challenge (Le Coze, 2013).

Current UK Legislation

The introduction and amendment of legislation regarding sports events in the UK seems to correlate with a reduction in crowd disasters over the last three decades (Martella et al, 2017; Asgary, 2018; Still, 2019;). It is difficult to provide evidence of this as there is no enforced reporting of near misses and thankfully there have been no disasters where loss of life was entailed (Emergency Planning College, 2019). However, sometimes news reports surface of crowd issues at festivals, with most recently a crowd incident at We Are FSTVL festival in London (Braggs, 2019). The report suggested that the wristband technology system failed, leaving crowds waiting at the entrance gates in high summer temperatures, without welfare. People broke down barriers to gain entry which resulted in crowd turbulence, although no injuries were officially reported.

While a number of legislative instruments can be drawn upon to potentially incorporate crowd safety, the following selection is an example of legislation referenced when planning, licensing and delivering a crowd safety plan at an event.

Civil Contingencies Act 2004

Objectives relating to crowd safety include the duty to assess, plan and provide (Section 2) e.g. assess the risk of an emergency occurring (if a festival takes place in a small town, the risk of an emergency occurring increases)

Common Law

Objectives relating to crowd safety include: employers to provide safe place of work, safe plant and equipment and adequate training and supervision.

Construction, Design and Management 2015

In the UK, legislation impacts all stages of an event; from planning, licensing, build and delivery. Due to the scope and nature of events, the appropriate legislation will vary depending on size, location, and type of event. In the planning and build stages, many outdoor events are covered by the Construction Design and Management (CDM15) Regulations 2015, as they are technically construction sites. CDM intends on protecting the health and safety of those who work, or are affected by the work, on construction sites. This regulation does not apply as much when the event is live.

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA74) impacts the day to day management of an event site regarding employers and employees. Prompted by the Aberfan Disaster, the HSWA74 was intended as a new, non-prescriptive approach to health and safety which emphasised self-regulation (Humphreys, 2016). The HSWA74 intends to protect the health and safety of employers and employees at the workplace, which includes those who are affected by the work of the organisation. Section 3 of the HSWA74 regards the protection of health and safety of those who are not employees, which affects event attendees, however event attendees are not the focus of this law.

Occupier's Liability Act 1957

Objectives relating to crowd safety include: liability of occupiers and others for injury or damage resulting to persons or goods lawfully on any land or other property from dangers due to the state of the property or to things done or omitted to be done there.

Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Objectives relating to crowd safety include the prevention of fires and mitigating the effects of fires.


The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR13) covers the mandatory reporting of injuries to workers on site. It does not, however, cover event attendees. The reason it is mentioned is that one condition affects attendees: if they were to sustain an injury that resulted in them being taken directly to hospital (RIDDOR 2013). Therefore, if there were near misses or incidents that resulted in injury to the crowd, such as the We Are FSTVL incident, but no one was taken directly to hospital, then the incident is not reportable under the RIDDOR regulations. Furthermore, in large festivals such as Glastonbury Festival, there are temporary hospitals built on site, to treat attendees directly, so they are not taken directly to a hospital (Glastonbury, 2020)

The two major and mostly commonly referred to legislation instruments that can be directly related to crowd safety at an event are the Licensing Act 2003 (LA03) for indoor and outdoor events and the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 (SSGA75) for sports grounds and stadia.

Safety of Sports Ground Act 1975

In 1971, the crowd disaster at Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow; where 66 people died following crowd turbulence on stairway 13 on egress of a football match, sparked a debate regarding the need for licensing stadia managed by local authorities. The licensing of sports grounds became one of the recommendations from the subsequent Wheatley Report into the causes of the disaster (Wheatley, 1972) and thus the Safety of Sports Ground Act (SSGA75) was introduced in 1975. Only six months before the Ibrox Disaster, a licensing system was ruled out by Scottish government as they believed such a system would not help to prevent the consequences for ‘loss of control’ or ‘panic’ (Walker, 2007). This legislation was designed specifically to protect spectators (Smail, 2011). The Sports Ground Safety Authority (formally Football Licensing Authority) was established under the Football Spectators Act 1989 (SGSAa, 2022) to regulate spectator viewing accommodation in football league grounds. Under the SSGA75, the SGSA also oversee how local authorities discharge their functions in licensing sports grounds (SGSAb, 2022) . The impact of this framework is evident as there have been seven recorded crowd disasters in stadiums since 1940 to 1990 and none since then (Still, 2020).

Today, alongside the SGSA, there is official guidance called the Guide to Safety of Sports Grounds (the Green Guide), on its 6th edition, published in 2018 (SGSA, 2018). Although developed for UK sports grounds only, this guidance is highly regarded in the events indudstry and being used internationally, including the Working Party producing EU standards for stadia (Thorburn, 2018). Furthermore, Safety Officers in charge of spectator safety on match day need to either hold or be working towards an NVQ Level 4 in Spectator Safety Management to carry out their role.

Licensing Act 2003

After the Licensing Act 2003 (LA03) came into power in 2005, the majority of research has been conducted on the impact of licensing on night time culture, crime and disorder, alcohol consumption and pressure on the health system (DCMS, 2003; Talbot, 2006; Newton et al, 2007; Hadfield et al, 2009; Herring et al, 2009; Foster et al, 2009; Newton and Hirschfield, 2009; Nicholls, 2015). As this act is one of the main pieces of legislation impacting event approval in the UK, there has been little academic research conducted on the impact on crowd safety at events. Conversely, articles and guidance produced for events discuss the impact of the LA03 on events (White, 2010; EPC, 2019). The LA03 was “intended as a single integrated scheme for licensing premises” yet it does not account for the provision of outdoor events and festivals (Robertson and Eldridge, 2007).

Crowd safety within the LA03 is incidental to the licensing objectives within it. There are a total of eight references to “public safety” in the LA03. In the DCMS report on the impact of the LA03 (DCMS, 2008), the word "crowd" does not appear nor is there focus on the conregation of crowds, management of crowds, crowd density, flow or risk management. As discussed, the principal aim of the LA03 was to standardise the approach, however research shows this has not been the case (Laing, 2016), especially when it comes to crowd safety (White, 2009).

For events where attendance is larger than 500 persons, a Premises Licence is required. In order for this to be issued, a Designated Premises Supervisor is named on the licence and responsible for this licence. This person must hold a Personal Licence which is a qualification issued by their local authority (Licensing Act 2003:6). As I hold this licence, I experieced that the training and testing of this qualification surrounds the sale, supply and effects of alcohol, focusing little on crowd safety.

For events under 500 persons, an event organiser can apply for a Temporary Events Notice (TEN). This is usually processed without challenge through the council’s licensing team and residents are unable to object to it. Evidence shows that event organisers sometimes subvert the licensing process by amending details in order for their event to comply with a TEN and avoid the scrutiny associated with a Premises Licence application; circumnavigating licensing and planning restrictions (Robertson and Eldridge, 2007; Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003, 2017a; Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003, 2017b). There is no guidance available to applicants or local authority on best practice for event applications.

The Purple Guide is the guide to health, safety and welfare at music and similar events and is managed by industry and not a government body. The document is now online only, unavailable in print, and a subscription is required in order to access it (Event Industry Forum, 2020). What the industry is experiencing is that event organisers are turning to the Green Guide for guidance for events that do not take place in sports grounds (Buckinghamshire New University, 2010).

In Summary

Legislation and regulation appear to develop and change in reaction to disasters, and evolve only when a disaster becomes a 'focusing event' (attracting enough political, public and media attention to make a change), often failing to consider the system as a whole. While the introduction of crowd safety specific legislation regulation on UK sports grounds have improved safety, there is currently no law that governs crowd safety at events outside of sports grounds, and therefore no requirement for anyone responsible for crowd safety to hold relevant licences or qualifications.

If academic literature suggests that the distal cause of almost all disasters is due to the lack of relevant competency within management, safety culture, and the pressure to value money over safety, then does consideration need to be given to the development of crowd safety specific legislation governing these events?

Competency and Crowd Safety

This article considered the current legislative environment, how it evolved relating to crowd safety and how it impacts and influences crowd safety practices. The next article will consider how the legislative instruments are operated, using secondary and primary research to understand the impact of event organiser and SAG competency relating to crowd safety.


See here for the full list of dissertation references.

#crowd safety #dissertation