A safety certificate sets the permitted capacity for a sports ground together with the detailed terms and conditions with which the ground management must comply in order to operate the sports ground at its permitted capacity.
Under the provisions of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 (the 1975 Act), county councils, unitary authorities, metropolitan or London boroughs are responsible for issuing and enforcing a safety certificates in respect of any sports ground in their area which has been designated by the Secretary of State.
These are sports grounds that, in his opinion, have accommodation for more than 10,000 spectators, or 5,000 in the case of Premiership or Football League grounds in England and Wales.
The 1975 Act defines a sports ground as a place where sports or other competitive activities take place in the open air, and where accommodation has been provided for spectators, consisting of artificial structures, or of natural structures artificially modified for the purpose.
A safety certificate will set the permitted capacity for the sports ground together with the detailed terms and conditions with which the ground management must comply in order to operate the sports ground at its permitted capacity.
Although the safety certificate is issued by the local authority responsibility for the safety of spectators at the sports ground rests at all time with the sports ground management. This will normally be the owner or the lessee of the sports ground.
The Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (Green Guide) provides detailed guidance on calculating how many spectators can be safely accommodated within the viewing accommodation of a sports ground. The Guide also provides advice on measures to improve safety at sports grounds.
Although the Guide has no statutory force many of its recommendations will be given the force of law at individual grounds by their inclusion in the safety certificate for that ground.
To assist the local authorities discharge their functions under the 1975 Act, at grounds at which designated football matches are played, the SGSA has produced a Guide to Safety Certification document, which provides a single source of reference on the safety certification process, monitoring and enforcement.
The terms and conditions of the safety certificate should cover all areas to which the spectators have access, including restaurants, licensed bars, and concourses.
The safety certificate should also cover any other areas and all matters, over which the management of the sports ground has either direct or indirect control, which may affect the safety of spectators at the sports ground. This could encompass offices or players’ facilities within a stand, media facilities and car parks.
The certificate holder cannot be held responsible for circumstances outside his control, for example hazards presented by local industrial premises or restricted access for emergency vehicles because of congestion on the public highway, even if these could adversely affect the safety of spectators at the sports ground. However, the local authority may reasonably take account of any such factors, together with the sports ground management’s plans for responding to them, when setting the permitted capacity.
The safety of spectators beyond the curtilage of the sports ground falls outside the scope of the 1975 and 1987 Acts and of the safety certificate.
The SGSA Guidance on Safety Certification provides details on what should be included.
Section 2 (1) of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 states that: “A safety certificate shall contain such terms and conditions as the local authority considers necessary or expedient to secure reasonable safety at the sports ground when it is being used for the specified activity or activities…”