Managing crowds safely
Large crowds are a normal part of the operation of many public venues such
as railway stations, fairgrounds, leisure centres and sports stadiums. From
a commercial point of view large numbers of customers may be desirable.
But excessive crowding and poor crowd management can lead at worst to crushing,
injury and even death and at the very least to such anxiety and stress that
visitors decide not to come again or recommend a visit to others.
Even small changes in the layout or venue, or a gradual increase in visitors,
might lead to a disaster. In addition to the personal suffering such disasters
cause, the accompanying adverse publicity, loss of revenue, compensation
payments, insurance costs and possible prosecution can have a long-term
effect on a company's viability. Disasters should not happen provided
those responsible, at all levels, pay careful attention to managing crowds
In January 1991 RM Consultants (RMC) was commissioned by the Health and
Safety Executive (HSE) to study crowd behaviour, the different management
and control methods currently in use, and the effect of crowd size, flows
and venue design on the potential for overcrowding. They observed crowd
behaviour in a wide variety of fixed and transient venues, interviewed senior
and operational management and where possible asked visitors for their views.
Their study and crowd management recommendations based on it are published
as a report entitled Managing crowd safety in public venues: a study
to generate guidance for venue owners and enforcing authority inspectors
(see order form at end of leaflet).
This will be of interest to behavioural and social scientists as well as
to managers and owners of public venues. HSE is using RMC's study as
a basis for guidance to be published later. This leaflet summarises some
important points from the RMC study but it is not HSE guidance.
Responsibilities of the management team
Crowd safety is primarily a management responsibility and requires the
application of the best practices of health and safety management. All who
run venues, organise events or manage places which attract crowds should
have a health and safety management system which anticipates, monitors and
controls potential crowding risks.
Because venues, both fixed and transient, are large and complex spaces,
the management of crowds requires team work with good communications and
co-ordination between those responsible for the overall operation and those
managing crowds face to face. Effective team work depends on senior managers
providing a positive and pro-active safety culture so that staff at all
levels are aware of the importance of crowd safety. In particular, the team
- clear roles and responsibilities;
- written arrangements for the regular analysis, planning, inspection,
operation and review of crowd safety systems; and
- adequate training.
The day-to-day management of crowds carries with it great responsibility.
Preventing the unexpected from becoming a disaster depends on good management
systems and experience. Between them, members of the crowd safety team should:
- research the type of visitor they expect and anticipate likely crowd
- if it is available, collate and assess information about the health
and safety record of previous events at the venue;
- conduct a risk assessment to decide the adequacy of arrangements in
place to control crowds and change them if necessary;
- inspect the venue and review crowd safety arrangements at regular intervals;
- set targets for crowd management (for example, if queues extend past
a particular point, open another service point);
- liaise with outside organisations such as police and the emergency services.
Factors to consider when making a risk assessment
When assessing the risks to safety in a venue both physical and behavioural
factors need to be considered. Some of the more important ones are:
Design and layout
The layout of the venue, design of circulation routes and the design and
location of facilities can have a fundamental influence on crowd behaviour.
For example, small entrances or a limited number of turnstiles may control
crowd flow into cramped areas, but may result in dangerous build-ups on
the other side. Barriers can direct crowd flows and the shrewd location
of desirable facilities can help spread visitors more evenly. It may not
always be possible to change the layout to enhance safety, but it should
always be considered as an option.
How much people know about the layout and design of the place affects
the way they act, especially in an emergency
Visitors familiar with a venue are likely to use known routes to favourite
viewing-points or attractions and may persist in doing this, even if the
routes are closed. Those who don't know a venue may block routes while
deciding which way to go and well-placed signs and information about attractions
can help them decide quickly. In an emergency people often leave by the
way they know best, even if it appears more dangerous.
Behaviour is affected by the provision of information
Clear signposts and simple, audible public address messages are vital.
Poor communications can lead to people stopping, moving against the flow
of the crowd, blocking passages or making frequent demands on staff for
directions. Visitors without information, or given contradictory information,
can become frustrated and aggressive.
What type of crowd?
Different types of crowd behave in different ways. Shoppers in a crowded
mall, each with their own interests, make up a different crowd from spectators
at a sports stadium. It is important to know, for example, the age-range
and social mix of visitors to anticipate probable behaviour and make appropriate
arrangements for it.
The behaviour of individuals is influenced by those around them
Individuals within a crowd usually behave in a rational and goal-orientated
manner. For example, someone whose aim is to watch an event or celebrity
may climb onto a roof or to the top of scaffold poles to get a better view,
despite the danger. Other spectators with a similar aim may follow, leading
to more people on the roof and the possibility of collapse and injury. A
risk assessment should pick up the likelihood of this happening and enable
adequate measures to be taken before the event. The RMC study describes
how a risk assessment can be conducted.
Some hazards to watch out for
RMC's study indentified those physical features of a venue that may
lead to overcrowding and possible injury. These include:
- steep slopes
- dead ends, locked gates
- convergence of several routes into one
- uneven or slippery flooring or steps
The potential for injury increases in some situations. Potential hazards
requiring identification and management control include:
- reverse or cross flows in a dense crowd
- flows which are obstructed by queues, or gathering crowds
- large pedestrian flows mixing with animals or traffic
- moving attractions within a crowd
Additional copies of this leaflet can be obtained free from:
HSE Information Centre,
Sheffield S3 7IIQ
Telephone: 0742 892345/6
Fax: 0742 892333.
This publication may be freely reproduced, except for advertising, endorsement
or sale purposes. The information it contains is current at 2/93. Please
acknowledge the source as HSE.
Printed and published by the Health and Safety Executive IND(G)142L C1000
Added to the web Site 13/08/98