The 2012 football season was barely a week old when two fatal falls from stadium upper decks took place.
First, a fan fell from a fifth-floor escalator at Reliant Stadium in Houston for a Texans preseason game on August 30th, then another fan fell to his death the next night at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta at the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game between Tennessee and North Carolina State.
All of this comes after two known incidents at Major League Baseball stadiums last year – a fan at Coors Field fell off an escalator and died, and a fan at a Texas Rangers game fell over a railing while reaching for a ball tossed his way.
Upper decks of stadiums were created and implemented by sports organizations looking to create more seating capacity for sporting events while not diminishing the fan experience of having to sit so far away from the game action. While an ideal way to fit more fans into a venue with a limited footprint, clearly safety precautions have not kept up with the demands rowdy fans place on them.
A couple of the incidents involved fans who were consuming alcohol, but the alcohol isn’t the biggest issue. The most significant problem is that someone can fall, whether they’ve been drinking or not, and that fans in the upper decks are placed in danger because they can either trip and fall over a railing or their centers of gravity can drift over a railing and create imbalance.
What I don’t understand is how sports organizations can say they are doing everything they can to facilitate the safest fan environment, yet a way to fool-proof falling fans from upper decks is clearly overlooked.
Teams looked to raise railings once the incidents took place – a reactive measure – but what else can be done?
As a continuous improvement facilitator, one of the things I try to avoid doing is giving answers or steering teams of process owners down a path using bias. I want teams to come up with solutions on their own, after I’ve drawn out the details and constraints for their solutions.
However, I have to ask this question – why are teams not implementing nets beneath locations where falling is a significant risk?
Construction crews on scaffolding are required to use safety harnesses at heights that are far shorter than those one might experience in a stadium upper deck. Short of requiring fans to don harnesses and climbing gear when seated in the front rows, what else can teams do to maximize safety when falls do occur?
Is the investment too high? Are nets disallowed? Do they disrupt game play? Will the added safety feature make fans feel like they can drink more during or before games? Will fans jump onto the nets frequently and force game stoppages? What is holding teams back?
In the wake of significant injuries resulting from falls from high points, OSHA hammers businesses and frequently audits for specific safety hazards. Is there an explanation as to why stadium upper decks and high transportation points like stairs and escalators are not receiving attention with a new way of thinking about solutions?