This weekend, more than 100,000 fans will attend a football match at a stadium in Scotland. From a health and safety perspective, that means the potential for more than 100,000 slips, trips and personal injury claims (and maybe just a few broken hearts)…
A few weeks ago, I found myself at the centre of typically boisterous celebrations as my team scored a crucial goal. I was flung forward two or three rows in a blur of bodies, my glasses somehow ended up half way down the stand and scalding cups of Bovril were sent flying amidst the anarchy. The last thing on my mind, at that point in time at least, was health and safety.
The point I am making, however, is that there can be a number of potential hazards in a stadium including: broken seats, uneven flooring, extreme weather conditions, stray shots flying towards the crowd at an alarming speed and, as my glasses know all too well, exuberant celebrations. While I was totally fine, I have since wondered what would happen if someone did suffer injury. Who, if anyone, might be liable?
Under the Occupiers’ Liability (Scotland) Act 1960 (“the 1960 Act”), an “occupier” of premises or land (i.e. anyone occupying or having control of those premises or that land) owes a duty of care to visitors.
In brief, the duty is to take such care as in all circumstances is reasonable to ensure that the visitor will not suffer injury or damage as a result of the state of the premises or anything done or not done on them.
This may sound simple enough but the application of occupiers’ liability has caused much consternation in the courtroom over the years both in terms of who is the occupier and what is meant by reasonable care.
The case of McDyer v Celtic Football and Athletic Company Ltd and Others 2001, albeit now of some vintage, is an example of difficulties in identifying who had the requisite control over the premises to be deemed an occupier.
While attending Celtic Park for the opening ceremony of the European Summer Special Olympic Games, Mr McDyer sustained a disabling hand injury after he was struck by a piece of timber which had fallen from the stadium canopy. It was understood that the timber had been used to attach temporary banners to the canopy. Mr McDyer sued Celtic (as owners and usual occupiers of the stadium) and the organisers of the event under the 1960 Act.
However, mid-way through the proof (trial), the case against Celtic was abandoned, as it became clear that they were not an occupier at the material time. The case against the organisers, however, succeeded and Mr McDyer was awarded damages.
This case demonstrates that (i) the owner of premises is not always the occupier and (ii) the question of who is an occupier may depend on control of the premises at the material time. It should be noted that there can be more than one occupier at a time.
It is also worth remembering that an occupier is only required to take reasonable steps to guard against risks which are reasonably foreseeable.
In the English case of Cunningham v Reading Football Club 1991 (which involved an alleged breach of the English equivalent of the 1960 Act), police officers were able to recover damages after they had been injured by concrete launched at them by Bristol City supporters. Those supporters had loosened the concrete from the terraces of the ageing stadium.
It was held by the court that the club knew that some fans were violent and they were aware of the dilapidated condition of the stadium but had failed to take reasonable precautions and so the risk of injury to police officers was reasonably foreseeable.
What is reasonably foreseeable and what constitutes reasonable care will depend on the facts in question. A football stadium on match day, for example, might pose different types of risks to a stadium being used for a one-off event or at a particular time of year.
The key, of course, is to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to health and safety at your premises. Well-maintained gangways and staircases and fully-informed stewards are examples of sensible, preventative measures at a football stadium.
More generally, risks can be reduced by keeping floors dry, utilising warning and hazard signs effectively and providing adequate training to staff.
On a parting note, I’m personally considering contact lenses for future matches.
On December 13, 2019