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Gymnastics risk management news

Vol. 1, 2017

Managing your spectator seating

By Michael Swain, Senior Loss Control Specialist

Falls from elevated surfaces are a common cause of accidents in a gymnastics facility. While the leading cause of these falls involves gymnastics equipment, falls can often occur from the use of spectator seating.

Graceful Gymnast During Floor RoutineSpectator seating at gymnastics facilities can take many different formats.  Whether it involves chairs, benches or bleachers, having a routine inspection process of these seats can help reduce the risk of injury to spectators.

Chairs should be in good working condition and stable when in use. Chairs that have obvious defects, collapse easily during weight-bearing, or that are unstable when in use should be removed from service immediately. Repair or replace these chairs before they are used again.  Align chairs so there is ample space between rows so spectators can move freely without tripping.

Managing Risk in Sport and Recreation: The Essential Guide for Loss Prevention1 offers a series of questions for you to consider when inspecting your spectator seating.

  • Do the bleachers have loose nuts and bolts, cracks, splinters, debris, or dangerous protrusions?
  • Do the bleachers have non-skid steps and well-marked and clear pathways?
  • Have bleachers been cleaned?If so, have they been dried sufficiently so that they are not slippery? Consider posting “Slippery When Wet” signage on bleachers that may go unattended.
  • Have mobile bleachers that are being used been put in place and set up properly?
  • If mobile bleachers are not being used, have they been stored so they will not be a hazard to athletes while playing?
  • If mobile bleachers are stored, have they been stored in a secure location so they are inaccessible to children?
  • Will spectators be located in a safe place that has good visibility of the playing court or field? Defining a safe place depends on the activity being observed.As an example, spectator seating for a swim competition may not need as much of a buffer zone as seating for a soccer game.
  • Are safety railings or barriers in place to prevent people from falling off stands or bleachers? See recommendations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in the next segment of this newsletter.
  • Are there other considerations particular to your bleachers, stands, and viewing areas? This may include codes specific to your locales, so it may be beneficial to consult your state’s building department or fire marshal for assistance. Also consider posting usage rules, such as “Warning - Do Not Sit on Top Row.” You can paint this directly on the top row for easy notification.

The CPSC recommends that bleachers be thoroughly inspected at least quarterly to identify any structural damage or degradation that could compromise safety. All problems should be corrected immediately. Inspections and maintenance should be carried out in a systematic manner by trained personnel. Documentation of these actions, including the date and signature of the person performing them, should be retained. A licensed professional engineer, registered architect, or company that is qualified to provide bleacher products and services should inspect the bleachers at least every two years and provide a written certification at such time that the bleachers are fit for use.  Records of all incidents and injuries should be retained. This will help identify potential hazards or dangerous design features that should be corrected.

To prevent falls from elevated bleacher surfaces, guardrails should be installed.  Once installed, a child should not be able to pass under or through the components of a guardrail. It is also important that guardrails be designed so that they do not encourage young children to climb them.

The CPSC Guideline for Retrofitting Bleachers 2 recommends:

  • Guardrails should be present on the backs and portions of the open ends of bleachers where the footboard, seatboard, or aisle is 30 inches or more above the floor or ground below. Bleachers with the top row nominally 30 inches above the ground may be exempt from this recommendation.

    Rows of empty red seats in sports stadium

  • The top surface of the guardrail should be at least 42 inches above the leading edge of the footboard, seatboard, or aisle, whichever is adjacent. When bleachers are used adjacent to a wall that is at least as high as the recommended guardrail height, the guardrail is not necessary if a 4-inch diameter sphere fails to pass between the bleachers and the wall.
  • Any opening between components of the guardrail or under the guardrail should prevent passage of a 4-inch sphere.

You can visit the CPSC website to learn more about retrofitted bleachers and bleacher safety.

To discourage climbing on guardrails, guardrails should be designed in one of three ways:

  1. Use only vertical members as in-fill between the top and bottom rails.
  2. If there are openings in the in-fill that could provide a foothold for climbing, the widest measurement of the opening where the foot could rest should be limited to a maximum of 1.75 inches. Opening patterns that provide a ladder effect should be avoided.
  3. Where visibility would not be significantly impaired, use solid members.

  1. Nohr, Katherine. Managing risk in sport and recreation – The essential guide for loss prevention. Illinois: Human Kinetics. 2009. Print
  2. Guidelines for Retrofitting Bleachers.US Consumer Product Safety Commission – Pub 330. Washington, DC. 2000


Michael Swain is a Sr. Loss Control Specialist for Markel Service Incorporated. He supports Markel Specialty product offerings for gymnastics and other youth program related groups. Michael earned a B.S. from Virginia Tech and holds certifications as an Associate in Risk Management, Senior Claims Law Associate, and has completed the USA Gymnastics University: Safety & Risk Management Certification Program.  He has 30 years insurance industry experience.

Announcing new Safety 1st award program – Nominate your school today!

Think of Markel’s Safety 1st certificate as a report card from your insurance company, giving you an A+ for safety. If your school/studio is selected to receive the Safety 1st designation for 2017, you will receive:
Markel Safety 1st logo

    • Markel’s Safety 1st certificate
    • A press release you can use to announce your achievement
    • Rights to use the official Safety 1st logo
    • A listing in Markel’s nationally distributed Risk Management News
    • Recognition in the Safety 1st Hall of Fame on Markel’s website

Is my gymnastics school eligible? You can nominate your school if you:

  • Have been a Markel customer for at least 3 years, and
  • Have a liability, property, or auto policy with Markel

*Note: Schools with an accident medical policy only are not eligible for this program.

Learn more
  Nominate your school


See you at the USAG Gymnastics National Congress!

 USA Gymnastics National Congress Trade Show

Come visit us at the Markel booth #755 to talk to us about your gymnastics insurance needs and to register to win a $100 gift card to the USAG store.

The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact us or your attorney if you have any questions.