Public Event Safety
A Review of Standards and Guidance to Protect Workers and the Public
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We all watched with horror and despair when newscasters reported that ten people had died in a stampede at Travis Scott’s concert at the Astroworld Festival near Houston, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2021. The victims, aged 10 to 27 years old, died of compression asphyxia, essentially crushed to death in the crowd surrounding the stage. Another 300 people were injured. Victims were hemmed in by barricades on three sides, unable to escape as thousands of fans, including some who had not purchased tickets, rushed toward the stage while Scott performed. Eyewitnesses said spectators fell to the ground, and some were trampled. More than a billion dollars in lawsuits have been filed against Scott, event organizer Live Nation, and others, but no amount of money will make up for the chaos caused by a venue that allegedly lacked sufficient resources to manage a crowd of over 50,000 attendees.
There are many other examples of chaotic and often fatal crowd behavior. Wikipedia identifies 195 such incidents since 1807, with 133 dating from 2000 onward. In October 2022 alone, two separate incidents each led to more than a hundred deaths: a stampede at a soccer match in Indonesia, and a crowd surge during Halloween festivities in Seoul, South Korea. This article summarizes some of the existing industry and consensus standards for event safety. We welcome feedback from individuals working in the entertainment industry to broaden EHS professionals’ knowledge. RISKS OF LIVE EVENTS The complex issues facing a live entertainment event include, but are not limited to, the protection of the general public, performers, stagehands, support personnel, contractors, the press, and others. OEHS professionals can use the business continuity planning process to understand the risks and hazards of a live event. Multidisciplinary subject matter experts should be on the team. Organizers should be aware of potential risks when event preparation begins. Considerations should include providing trained security and capable emergency medical services, controlling crowds, and forging evacuation routes. According to the World Health Organization, poor crowd management can cause a slew of problems, ranging from traffic congestion to poor road safety. As explained in a report from the World Innovation Summit for Health, overcrowding or a lack of exits within a venue might increase the risk of stampedes and trampling. Legal ramifications are among the risks of live events, although history suggests it is rare for onstage performers to be held accountable for deaths at music concerts. Organizers, however, have been found guilty for concert deaths. After a fire in Oakland in 2016 killed 36 concertgoers, the venue’s primary leaseholder was sentenced to 12 years in prison. And a stampede during a parade in Germany in 2010 that killed 21 people led to criminal charges against employees of the city where the event was held and the firm that planned it. NEW LAW IN CALIFORNIA Despite these risks, the only U.S. state or federal occupational safety and health regulation we found that comprehensively governs public venues (other than rules that require fire escape planning) is California Assembly Bill 1775, which went into effect on Jan. 1. The stated intent of the law is “to promote safety standards and certifications that ensure that all live events and programming are safe for workers, performers, and the public.” It sets workplace safety training and certification standards for companies that produce live events at publicly owned and operated venues. Employees who set up and tear down staging—including lighting systems, sound systems, video walls, and other scenic elements—for live events at arenas, stadiums, fairgrounds, and outdoor venues must have complied with specific training, certifications, and workforce requirements. Vendors at entertainment events must certify in writing that they have verified that their employees (and any contractors’ employees) have complied with these training requirements. But the law does not address the safety of the public and other employees working an event. OSHA FACT SHEET Although there are no specific OSHA regulations surrounding crowd control, the agency issued a fact sheet in November 2012 to help retail employers and store owners avoid injuries during the holiday shopping season or other events where large crowds may gather. “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers” (PDF) addresses crowd management planning, pre-event setup, actions to take during sales events, and emergency situations. The guideline addresses some but not all of the key elements associated with public venues. CONSENSUS STANDARDS Several American national standards have been developed by the Entertainment Services and Technology Association (ESTA) and the Event Safety Alliance (ESA) along with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). A few of these standards are described below. For a comprehensive list, visit ESTA's website. ANSI ES1.4-2021, Event Fire Safety Requirements. This standard describes how to protect life and property from fire, explosion, smoke, and other dangerous conditions at a live event. The live event industry includes indoor and outdoor concerts, festivals, sporting events, motorsports, community celebrations, theater and film production, corporate events and activations, trade shows, and similar events.
Legal ramifications are among the risks of live events, although history suggests it is rare for onstage performers to be held accountable for deaths at music concerts.
Among the standard’s requirements are measures to minimize the likelihood of a fire, means of escape, fire safety monitoring, and limiting the development, spread, and effects of fire. Standards referenced in ANSI ES1.4 include NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, as well as International Fire and Building codes. General fire safety measures, consideration of occupant load, means of egress, fire safety on stage, fire risk assessment, preparation of an approved fire safety plan, and identification of the authority having jurisdiction for fire safety are covered in ANSI ES1.4.
The introduction to the standard discusses the importance of “the event organizer’s thoroughness in identifying and considering their own reasonably foreseeable risks and developing risk mitigation plans to address them.” A “reasonable” plan, according to the standard, has justifications for actions taken. All relevant stakeholders must be involved in the planning process to collectively assess the risks for that event at that time, and to record the reason for those decisions.
ANSI E1.19-2020, Safety Requirements for Special Event Structures. This standard identifies requirements for temporary structures such as those used for presentation, performance, structural support of entertainment technology equipment, or audience seating or viewing. ANSI E1.19 is intended to help users and enforcement officials maintain minimum standards for care and public safety during special events. While not a design manual, the standard provides guidance and general requirements for a given structure, including its design, installation, dismantling, and operational use.
ANSI E1.21-2020, Temporary Structures Used for Technical Production of Outdoor Entertainment Events. This standard establishes design and performance parameters for temporary ground-supported structures used in the production of outdoor entertainment events.
GUIDANCE IN AUSTRALIA Live Performance Australia (LPA), a group that represents the Australian entertainment industry, has developed “Safety Guidelines for the Live Entertainment and Events Industries.” These guidelines address the requirements of Australia’s 2011 Worker Health and Safety Act (PDF), hazard identification, and risk management (PDF). This article focuses on the hazard identification and risk management section.
The risk management process described in the LPA guidelines includes four steps: identify risks, assess risks, control risks, and review control measures. The process involves use of the hierarchy of controls and a risk matrix of impact and likelihood. Workplace health and safety committees and health and safety representatives must be included in the process, which requires commitment from management and the involvement and cooperation of workers.
Once the hazards have been identified and minimized or controlled, a Safe Work Method Statement is developed. The SWMS identifies hazards, describes control measures, instructs workers on their role in implementing controls, and sets out work activities in a logical sequence. Through the SWMS, supervisors and workers understand what has been planned to ensure that work is undertaken safely. The SWMS process ensures workers are adequately trained, helps workers recognize and manage associated hazards and risks, communicates the preferred way to safely perform work tasks, and ensures that a task is done the same way every time, leading to repeatable and consistent outcomes. Prior to each new activity, the SWMS must be reviewed and revised to ensure it applies to the specific task and work site.
Other guidelines have been developed by the Australian Entertainment Industry Association and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance. These “Safe Guidelines for the Entertainment Industry” follow the processes outlined in the LPA safety guidelines but are more specific to identifying and controlling the hazards. Section two, “Specific Hazard Management,” provides general guidelines for work involving heights; working in awkward environments including confined spaces; working on a stage or performance space; electrical and lighting operations; set construction; manual handling; potential hazards created by the work environment (such as ergonomic hazards); sound levels; vocal strain; gusting winds, wet weather, and other hazards associated with outdoor events; biological hazards; hazards associated with mobile equipment, portable tools, and firearms; productions utilizing children and animals; and hazards related to the audience.
Although these guidelines are comprehensive, they do not include an in-depth discussion related to crowd control and emergency evacuations.
For “manufactured” events like Astroworld, a serious safety risk exists if the event’s borders can be breached.
GUIDANCE FROM THE U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT The U.S. Department of Justice partnered with the Center for Naval Analysis, a nonprofit research and analysis organization, to develop “Managing Large-Scale Security Events: A Planning Primer for Local Law Enforcement Agencies” (PDF). Although intended for the law enforcement community, the planning primer was designed as a tool for planning and conducting large events. It offers clear guidance in templates and checklists to facilitate the three major phases of managing a large-scale security event: pre-event planning, operational management, and post-event operations.
Based on lessons learned from national political conventions, the planning primer synthesizes best practices and common security planning and operational themes. It notes that maintaining a safe environment at any large-scale event requires carefully planned security operations and multi-agency coordination.
As explained in the planning primer, many large-scale events have similar crowd safety elements such as the potential for dealing with public intoxication, traffic control, and acts of violence. Orderly evacuation may be required. The main point that the planning primer drives home is that the local jurisdiction is responsible for developing a comprehensive local operations plan that focuses on maintaining everyday policing activities, providing event site security, traffic and crowd management, and security of non-official event venues. The primer also discusses the importance of developing relationships with supporting agencies and organizations with operational responsibilities related to the event’s security. It suggests meeting with interagency partners regularly to coordinate planning operations and build effective working relationships. A list of potential supporting organizations is included in the primer.
Plans for events should be scalable based on the size of the event, similar to the incident command system used to manage emergencies. The checklists and references provided in Appendix A will help planners identify the critical components of building and completing a comprehensive local operational plan. Section 3.4 addresses crowd management. The planning primer emphasizes the need to consider all elements of an event, especially the type and duration, venue characteristics, methods of entrance, the size and demeanor of the crowd, mechanisms for communication and crowd control, and queuing practices. One best practice shared that seems particularly applicable to the Astroworld tragedy is the need to pre-position security officers in areas where large numbers of spectators might be expected to gather.
Finally, section 3.7 discusses preventing, minimizing, and quickly responding to injuries or health issues. Security personnel and partner agencies must be able to communicate with each other to obtain a proper understanding of the nature and scope of response operations.
TEXAS TASK FORCE ON CONCERT SAFETY Following the Astroworld tragedy, Governor Greg Abbott formed the Texas Task Force on Concert Safety, which issued a report in April 2022 that includes five recommendations for improving concert safety stemming from an examination of safety failures at the event. These findings include:
Unified command and control. An on-site command and control group is needed to establish how and when a show should be paused or canceled. A designated member of the production team should have “show-stop” authority.
Permitting. According to officials, no permits for the Astroworld event were obtained. The task force found that the permitting process was inconsistent across Texas and recommended using a universal permitting template for future events.
Training. All event staff must be adequately trained for the specific event. Training can include tabletop exercises, site walkthroughs, security briefings, and show-stop triggers.
Planning with risk assessment. Reasonably foreseeable hazards and responses must be identified before the event. For “manufactured” events like Astroworld, which was held not in an established venue but in a parking lot, a serious safety risk exists if the event’s borders can be breached. The report suggests using barricades to guide people into rounded areas that allow forward and backward egress instead of angled areas where people can be trapped.
Centralized resources. A collection of resources received by the task force is freely available on the website of the Texas Music Office.
PLANNING IS KEY Events that include large numbers of people are likely to experience unanticipated risks and consequences. To minimize these risks, consensus standards and industry guidelines call for extensive pre-planning that involves all key stakeholders. An event plan assesses the risks associated with the event and records the reasons for decisions made when developing the plan. Post-incident analysis would allow for the identification of gaps, omissions, or implementation failures in the event plan that could prevent similar incidents.
LORRAINE SEDLAK, CIH, CSP, FAIHA, is a senior EHS consultant at Bright Talent located in Tustin, California.
MATTHEW PARKER, MS, CIH, CSP, ARM, is a safety and health consultant with Paragon Technical Services.
DANIELLE S. MILLS, MPH, CIH, RS/REHS, DAAS, GA-CEM, EMHP, is an environmental health officer with CDC in Atlanta, Georgia.
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Australian Entertainment Industry Association: “Safety Guidelines for the Entertainment Industry” (PDF, August 2001).
California Legislature: “AB-1775 Occupational Safety: Live Events” (October 2022).
Entertainment Services and Technology Association: “Published Documents.”
Event Safety Alliance.
Industrial & Environmental Crisis Quarterly: “Football Stadia Disasters in the United Kingdom: Learning from Tragedy?” (July 1993).
International Association of Venue Managers.
Live Performance Australia: “Safety Guidelines for the Live Entertainment and Events Industries: Part 1. WHS Commitment and Responsibilities” (PDF, February 2018).
Live Performance Australia: “Safety Guidelines for the Live Entertainment and Events Industries: Part 2. Hazard Identification and Risk Management” (PDF, February 2018).
Live Performance Australia: “Safety Guidelines for the Live Entertainment and Events Industries: Performer Hazard Guide” (PDF, February 2018).
OSHA: “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers” (PDF, November 2012).
Reuters: “Deaths at Travis Scott Concert Due to Accidental Suffocation, Medical Examiner Says” (December 2021).
Texas Music Office: “Event Production Guide.”
Texas Music Office: “Governor Greg Abbott’s Task Force on Concert Safety - April 2022 Report” (April 2022).
Time: “Here’s Who Could Be Held Legally Liable for the Astroworld Tragedy” (November 2021).
U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “Protective Measures Guide for the U.S. Outdoor Venues Industry” (PDF, June 2011).
U.S. Department of Justice: “Managing Large-Scale Security Events: A Planning Primer for Local Law Enforcement Agencies” (PDF, May 2013).
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Food Related Emergency Exercise Bundle (FREE-B) Frequently Asked Questions.”
Wikipedia: “List of Fatal Crowd Crushes.”
World Health Organization: “Public Health for Mass Gatherings: Key Considerations” (January 2015).
World Innovation Summit for Health: “Stepping Up to the Plate: Planning for a Lasting Health Legacy from Major Sporting Events” (PDF, November 2020).