Late last month a toddler died after plunging 10 metres from a corporate box at LA’s Staples Center. The incident reportedly occurred when the family of the two-year-old were taking photographs after a professional basketball match. In the short time the family was not watching the child, he climbed a glass safety barrier and fell.

Falls from height at Public Venues

A spokesman for the venue said ''In 11 years, we've never had an incident like this.” However, a closer inspection of similar incidents at other stadiums reveals the occurrence is more prevalent than may be expected.

  • A man was critically injured when, while dancing, he fell off railing on the second level of the Telstra Dome during a Robbie Williams Concert in 2003
  • Earlier this year, a man died after falling about 7 metres from a press box at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium
  • A man died at a Winnipeg football stadium in October this year after tripping down stairs and underneath a guard rail, falling several metres onto concrete below

Is Compliance Enough?

In all of these incidents, the stadium was found to be in full compliance with the relevant building codes.

A 2002 paper by John F. Culvenor, Design of Childproof Barriers to Prevent Falls from a Height in Public Places says that there is a “mistaken reliance on regulations.”

Culvenor discusses a number of interesting points which may apply more generally:

  • Meeting compliance regulations does not necessarily mean that all legal requirements are met. There may be other common law duty of care elements which may not be satisfied
  • Buildings codes are often not as stringent as other prescribing standards
  • Building codes change over time: some structures were built when less demanding requirements were in force, and may not be safe today

Catering to the Lowest Common Denominator

The fact that Culvenor’s paper discussed childproof barriers in public places indicates that certain groups (including children and intoxicated adults) may not interact with elements of a site or venue as was intended.

Children may have developed advanced climbing ability, but this is often not matched by their decision-making faculties. The same goes for intoxicated adults.

The lesson to be learned out of this is that when considering safety, venues must not solely consider how a rational adult may behave. As Culvenor says, “[compliant] barriers may offer some protection, but in another sense they might offer a false sense of security. A carer may well have a young child at their feet and be unaware of the potential danger that exists.” This is precisely what happened at the Staples Center.

Prevention of Incidents

The most obvious risk relating to barriers is falls from height. Key points to consider are:

  • The choice of material used is vital. For example, glass is harder to climb than bars, and, if bars are necessary, vertical are harder to climb that horizontal
  • Gaps between bars should be small enough to prevent a child falling through

In the wake of this incident, venues with fall hazards should consider carrying out a risk assessment of vulnerable areas. The assessment should determine how easily barriers can be climbed, whether bars are appropriately spaced, and whether entrapment between bars is possible. As mentioned above, although adults may overwhelmingly be a venue’s most frequent patrons, the assessment should consider the interaction of children and / or intoxicated adults within the venue.