Guidelines for Bleacher Safety
It is hard to believe that we
are at the beginning of another school year. Custodians and
facilities crews have been busy all summer cleaning schools
and repairing and/or renovating building systems. This loss
control bulletin focuses on a school structure that is often
overlooked or placed low on the priority list for
inspection, repair, renovation, or replacement. The
structure is your school’s bleachers
Whether they are inside a
gymnasium or outside at your soccer or football field,
bleachers should be inspected seasonally – or quarterly –
and if necessary, repaired because they may be unsafe. You
may be asking yourself at this point, “Is there really a
hazard associated with bleachers?” The simple answer is
“yes,” according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
The federal safety agency has
reported that there were at nineteen deaths involving falls
from bleachers from 1991 to 2003; four of them were children
under the age of fifteen. Injuries are much more common.
In 1999, for example, there were 22,100 bleacher-associated
injuries requiring emergency room treatment, according to
the agency. Twenty-eight percent of those injuries were the
result of falls from the bleachers onto a surface below.
There were 4,910 falls that involved children under the age
of 15. Serious injuries typically result from falls between
seats and floorboards and between guardrails. Renovations
would have prevented many of those deaths and injuries.
Repairs, renovations, and the installation of non-skid
surfaces on floorboards, stairs, and walkways would also
have reduced slips and trips, two of the other leading
causes of injuries in school bleachers.
Although infrequent, there is
also the danger of a section of the bleachers collapsing.
This can occur from design errors, improper installation or
setup, missing fittings or fasteners, deterioration or
corrosion, sabotage, natural disasters, vehicle-related
damage, such as from a forklift, truck, or excessive
There are three types of
bleachers common to schools: portable, permanent, and
telescopic. Portable units are smaller, roughly 20 feet in
width, and four to five rows deep. They can be moved, for
example, from the soccer field in the fall to the softball
field in the spring. Permanent bleachers are the classic,
large structures on the side of a football or baseball
field. Telescopic bleachers typically are used in a
gymnasium and can be closed to utilize the entire gym.
Slips, trips, and falls can occur while using any of the
above bleacher systems. Listed below are the common hazards
associated with falls and collapse, and some measures that
can be taken to prevent accidents and injuries.
Most injuries are associated
with one of the following causes:
Missing or defective
guardrails: on the sides, the back, or (if elevated) the
Large openings between
components: typically between the seating and the
guardrails, or between seats and floorboards that are big
enough for a child or adult to pass through
Excessive guardrail space:
e.g., between the bottom rail and the mid-rail
Unprotected spaces between
guardrails: open areas neither fenced nor provided with
Access steps to seating:
missing or no handrails for support
Structural collapse or
tipping of the structure: failure to properly install or
Incomplete work: hazard areas
not protected or secured between work shifts
Entire bleacher sections or
systems have collapsed because of design flaws,
manufacturing and installation, misuse, or lack of adherence
to or compliance with an inspection and maintenance
schedule. Design flaws may be based on misinformation, such
as who will be using the bleachers – children or adults –
where the edifice will be used, snow and ice loading,
maintenance instructions, and miscalculations.
Manufacturing and installation may create flaws where design
did not. Misuse usually involves overloading – static or
dynamic – including exceeding occupancy or weight limits.
Each system is designed to hold
a certain amount of weight, i.e., a static load. If
overloaded, the bleachers could fail, or in some cases, tip
over. Check with the manufacturer and your local building
inspector or fire department to determine your bleacher
occupancy limit. Live or dynamic loads are an equal concern.
Most people have been to a high school basketball game and
sat on the telescopic bleachers. When the game got close,
the home team fans stamped their feet to support or cheer
their team. When that is done in unison, there is a
tremendous live load on the system. Nuts and bolts, even
welds, can loosen or crack over time from live loads.
Dynamic loading is why quarterly or even more frequent
inspections are advisable.
shows a small, fixed or portable unit.
chainlink guardrail on the side and back
This is an
older, permanent bleacher system at a high school
football field. This system has been retrofitted to
some degree. There is no riser fall protection and
no hand rails in the aisle walkway. However,
fencing has been added to the top and sides reducing
the potential for falls from the bleachers.
Massamont Insurance would recommend riser gaps be
closed to reduce the potential for falls between the
seat and walking surfaces, especially for
children. We would also recommend the installation
of aisle railings.
shows a newer, permanent bleacher system at a town
recreational baseball field. The system has aisle
railings, riser protection, and top and side
guardrails with mesh fencing. The risers would
prevent falls between the seat-boards and the
floorboards and would also prevent objects from
falling from the floorboards onto anyone beneath the
The following are some of the
recommendations that have been made by the CPSC and various
authorities on safety or found in nationally recognized
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.
The top surface of the
guardrail should be at least 42 inches above the leading
edge of the footboard, seatboard, or aisle, whichever is
When bleachers are used
adjacent to a wall that is at least as high as the
recommended guardrail height, a guardrail is not needed 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.
Any openings between the
components in the seating – such as between the footboard,
seatboard, and riser – should prevent passage of a 4 inch
diameter sphere where the footboard is 30 inches or more
above the ground and where the openings would permit a fall
of 30 inches or more.
non-skid surfaces, and other items that assist in access and
egress on bleachers should be incorporated into any retrofit
project where feasible.
The preferable guardrail
design uses only vertical members as in-fill between the top
and bottom rails. Openings in the fencing that could
provide a foothold for climbing should be limited to a
maximum of 1.75 inches. Opening patterns that provide a
ladder effect should be avoided. If chain link fencing is
used on guardrails, it should have mesh size of 1.25 inch
square or less.
The option of replacing
bleachers as opposed to retrofitting should be considered.
methods, and workmanship used for retrofitting should
prevent the introduction of new hazards, such as bleacher
tip-over, bleacher collapse, guardrail failure, and contact
or tripping hazards. Eliminate sharp edges or protrusions.
Bleachers should be
thoroughly inspected at least quarterly by trained
personnel, and problems corrected immediately.
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. Obtain a written
certification that the bleachers are fit for use.
Records of all
inspections, modifications, incidents, and injuries should
be compiled, retained, and reviewed. Corrective
action should be taken
to prevent reoccurrences.
Inspections and Maintenance
There are many wooden outdoor
systems still in place. Wood as well as aluminum bleachers
need to be inspected quarterly. The inspection should
identify structural damage to or deterioration of supports,
bracing, seating boards, steps, railings, and fencing.
Mechanical fasteners should be checked for tightness
(torque) and welds for cracking or rust.
Repairs should be made
immediately. Inspection and repair efforts should be
documented, including the date of the inspection and the
signature of the person conducting each inspection. In
addition to the school’s self-inspection of the bleachers,
it is recommended that a professional engineer, architect,
or manufacture’s representative inspect the bleachers
If your school, town
recreational department, or facility is considering buying a
bleacher system, it is recommended that you check with the
local building inspector to learn which building codes the
town follows and what they will require of your bleacher
system in terms of design, appropriate building materials,
placement, safety controls (e.g., securing or anchoring the
structure against tipping, capacity loadings, and
inspections), and maintenance. Documents summarizing
various design codes for the manufacture or retrofitting of
bleacher systems can be found at the Consumer Product Safety
Commission’s website (www.cpsc.gov).
This site also contains information on retrofitting existing
Information provided by:
Massamont Insurance Agency