Course 570 - School Safety: Athletics Supervision

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Athletic Event Safety


There have been a significant number of violent incidents at school athletic events throughout the nation in recent years. These events include assaults, riots, fighting, shootings, and stabbing incidents.

Experts say the success of school athletic event security can be linked to strategies associated with the following categories:

  • adequate staffing and supervision
  • planning of security strategies
  • Safety
  • thoughtful emergency preparedness planning

Safety Risks

Most school athletic events do not pose a large security threat, especially at the middle school level. They attract smaller crowds of spectators and involve less emotional rivalries. On the other hand, large high school football and basketball games can draw much higher crowds, be highly competitive, and require high levels of security. There may also be a lower level of adult supervision, mobility, and visibility. This causes some serious safety concerns at the high school level.

Security Strategies


Advanced planning for athletic events is very important, including more funding. For example, hiring off-duty police officers, paying overtime to school security personnel, installing surveillance cameras, and other measures cost money. There are some practical strategies school personnel can do to increase security. Here are a few ideas:

  • Provide adequate adult supervision and staffing. Take a look at the anticipated crowd size, history of events at the facility, and other related considerations.
  • Events with larger crowds should hire sworn law enforcement officers. However, school districts with their own school policy should be given priority in security guards, since they tend to know the students who may be attending the event.
  • Deploy police, security personnel, and school staff to provide adequate coverage to the event. For example, place them at ticket booths, entrance and exit points, parking lots, and common areas, such as restrooms and concession stands.
  • Maintain separate locker rooms for home and visiting teams. Also, have team buses pick-up and drop-off at opposite sides of the playing facility.
  • Create a detailed plan for parking lots, which includes traffic flow and parking lot staffing needs. Tell students in advance to coordinate pick-ups outside of the parking lots on the perimeter of the grounds.
  • Establish a code of sportsmanlike conduct and teach players, coaches, cheerleaders, band members, students, and parents the expectations before the game.

Emergency Preparedness

Emergency preparedness planning is essential because incidents can occur, even with the best laid-out security plans. Here are some helpful tips to be prepared:

  • Establish written emergency guidelines. Test and exercise the plan to make sure they work in a crisis.
  • Administrators and safety personnel from both schools who are involved in an event should coordinate information in advance. They should review security procedures and written emergency guidelines.
  • School administrators and safety personnel should coordinate with emergency medical personnel in advance of the event. For example, during large events, some schools will have an ambulance on stand-by on-site before, during, and after a game.
  • Evacuation plans should be clear, and staff members who have roles and responsibilities in an event of an emergency should be trained.
  • Have detailed plans on how to manage the “post-crisis” aftermath in the hours and days following an incident or event.

For more helpful information regarding developing a school crisis plan, see OSHAcademy course 575.

Requiring photo ID could be key to safer environments for fans at high school sports events. Take a look at this article from USA Today.


Bleacher Safety

Many athletic fields have bleachers, and they can pose serious safety risks if they are not properly taken care of. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says there were an estimated 19,200 bleacher–related injuries requiring emergency care in 1998. Of those injuries:

  • 58% involved falls.
  • 23% involved a fall from bleachers.
  • 35% resulted from a fall into or on the bleachers.

Bleacher Hazards

Bleachers Hazards

Millions of spectators watch sporting events from many types of bleachers each year. School administrators need to be aware of the following hazards

  1. Large Gaps: Gaps of more than four inches between seatboards and footboards are considered unsafe. That is because small children can slip through them. The CPSC suggests using rigid materials to close the opening between these surfaces.
  2. Unsafe Guardrails: If guardrails do not properly prevent falls, they need to be replaced. Also, guardrails are often fun climbing targets for children. If the bleacher guardrails are so tall that a child can pass under it, it is not safe.
  • Guardrails should be used on any bleacher where the top row is 30 or more inches off the ground.
  • The top surface of the guardrails should be no less than 42 inches from the highest point of the bleachers.
  • Nowhere in the guardrails should a four-inch diameter sphere be able to pass through.
  • Guardrails should discourage climbing in one of three ways:
    • Only use vertical fill-ins between the top and bottom rails.
    • If there are openings in the fill-ins that could provide a foothold for climbing, the widest measurement of the opening should be limited to 1.75 inches. Opening patterns that provide a ladder effect should be avoided.
    • Structural problems
      Older bleachers may become structurally unsafe.
    • Use solid surfaces to fill in spaces, but only use this if the visibility would not be significantly impaired.
  1. Structural Problems: Older bleachers not maintained correctly or have aged due to weather, overuse, or misuse may become structurally unsafe. Bleachers should be strong enough to handle a maximum load and be mechanically operational.
  2. Entrance & Exit: Spectators must be able to enter and leave the bleachers in a safe manner. Aisles and walkways should have non-skid surfaces and be wide enough for spectators to reach exits in an emergency.

The area underneath the bleachers can be dangerous as well. For this reason, it is important to block off completely the space underneath them. If your facility has larger rows of outdoor bleachers that cannot be closed off completely, you may want to consider having someone supervise the area to keep kids away.

Action Plan

You need to inspect the bleachers on a regular basis. The CSPC guidelines recommend you inspect bleachers no less than four times a year. Take a closer look at the amount and type of use the bleachers experience before creating an exact inspection schedule. Along with the regular inspections, each school should hire an engineer to conduct a full structural inspection at least once a year.

During an inspection, you should identify any structural damage or issues that could make them unsafe. It often works well to create a checklist for inspections and then carry it out in a systematic manner.

Lightning Safety Precautions


Lightning storms can cause severe safety issues for both spectators and athletes. If you hear thunder, experts say, begin preparation for evacuation.

Before any practice or event, a specific person should be in charge of checking the weather forecast. Be aware of whether or not the National Weather Service has issued a thunderstorm warning or watch.

If you see lightning, you should consider suspending activities and heading for a designated safe location. At a minimum, by the time the “flash to bang” is 30 seconds, all individuals should have left the athletic site and reached a safe location. A safe location includes fully enclosed, substantial buildings or a vehicle with a metal roof and closed windows.

Personnel should not return to the practice or game area until at least 30 minutes have passed since the lightning flash or the sound of thunder. Each time someone sees lightning or hears thunder, you must reset the timer.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Where should you place security personnel at an athletic event?

2. What percentage of injuries occurred when someone fell from the bleachers?

3. If there are openings in the bleacher fill-ins should be limited to _____.

4. Gaps of more than _____ inches between bleacher seatboards and footboards are considered unsafe.

5. During a lightning storm, by the time the “flash to bang” is _____, all individuals should have left the site and reached a safe location.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.