Bleachers have been used in events for thousands of years. They are essential for allowing our attendees to view the shows and sporting events we work so hard to produce. The more people we attract to our shows, the more bleacher seats we require, with higher rows to accommodate everyone within limited frontage.
How has bleacher seating evolved and changed over the past 100 years and why?
To the average person, bleachers haven’t changed much, if at all. They are still tiered planks that we sit on to view the show; a bleacher is a bleacher. This is what I thought too, before diving deep into the safety features and other aspects that go on behind the scenes.
This probably would never have happened if we weren’t forced into looking at alternative bleacher solutions ourselves.
We organize and host an annual rodeo event each year on our farm that attracts roughly 5000 people. Our first year, we rented older wooden style bleachers, with no stairs or safety railings – just 5 rows of single board wooden planks. After our event, we conducted a feedback survey, where the number one complaint made reference to the bleachers.
Our top 10 complaints included:
- They are hard to get up and down, because of the lack of stairs
- They are unsafe because they are missing side and back rails
- My kids could fall through the footboards (they need enclosed risers and larger foot boards)
- The wooden planks gave me splinters
- There wasn’t enough seating
- The structure of bleachers looks unsafe, (rusted steel, old wood; people didn’t trust them)
- They didn’t look very nice
- They got slippery when it started to rain
- They weren’t very high off the ground, so it was hard to see the show
- Too hot out and shade over bleachers would be nice.
Bleacher Safety Standards:
Bleacher standards across North America were created from 1999 – 2006, because there was an increased number of injuries and deaths due to unsafe bleachers at events. Event organizers required a set of rules that everyone could follow, which would create a safer environment for attendees.
The IBC (International Building Code) was born and adopted bleacher standards in 1997 (revised in 2000)*. The Ontario Building Code was also created around this time, (updated in 2006) to follow the same standards set out by the IBC committee**.
I had so many questions after finding this information out!
- What does the building code say about stairs on bleachers? (could this be changed to general code rules, not just stairs?
- Why was I allowed to rent bleachers that didn’t meet this code? (Our first rodeo was held in the summer of 2016)
- Why are so many other events in Ontario and around North America allowed to use non-code compliant bleachers?
I’ll answer these questions for you, to the best of my knowledge, even though I am still searching for better answers…
First: Here’s what the International Building code has to say about stairs on bleachers:
- All bleachers that can hold over 50 people must contain stairs to access these seats (Ontario Building Code, or OBC = 60 people)
- These stairs must be 48 inches wide (OBC = 1200 mm)
- The stairs must not have openings that allow a 4 inch diameter sphere to pass through (OBC = 100 mm)
- The rise must be between 4 – 8 inches per stair (OBC =. No greater than 250 mm)
- Run must be greater than 11 inches (OBC = 280 mm)
- If the rise is greater than 8”, an additional step must be provided (OBC = 250mm)
- If the rise is greater than 16”, then 2 steps must be provided. (OBC = 450 mm)
- Anti-slip marking strips must be present on each step
- Handrails are recommended
- There must be a uniform rise and run on all steps
- No more than 20 people can be between a person and an aisle / stairway
Fire safety codes could override building codes for indoor events in some areas.
Second: Why was I allowed to rent non-compliant bleachers?
When running our first rodeo, we applied for a special event permit, like all other events are required to. The event permit asked us if bleachers will be used at our event, among other questions, and we answered that yes they are.
They then required a building permit for the bleachers and structural drawings, etc. (as they should). We explained that we are renting “mobile” bleachers and we don’t have any structural drawings for them. They said they would allow the bleachers, as long as they remained outside of liquor permitted areas. I’m not actually sure how/ why we got away with this, but we did.
I’m guessing that most events who rent poor quality bleachers just slid under the radar (like we did the first year), until the events reach a certain number of attendees. In our area when the event hits 5000+ people a day, then additional rules are applied, to protect the safety of the public.
Third: Why are so many other events allowed to rent bleachers that are non-code compliant?
This is a tough question and one that I’m still searching for an answer on. My thoughts are that if I’m building a house I have to follow the building code to meet a set of standards or it will not be approved. So why would event organizers not have to follow the code for bleachers?
I’ve found that there is a loophole in most event applications around North America, that allow the use of mobile or portable bleachers that don’t meet the code to be permitted to be used at public events. Why does this loophole exist?
We at Bleacher Rentals believe that the code was created for our safety and the safety of the public. Even if building permits are not required, we believe that the bleacher must still follow the building code for the safety of the public.
Where we are now:
Most rural events are not required to follow the building codes and safety standards!.
- They didn’t follow these rules before year 2000 when codes were put place, and so were “grandfathered in”.
- They can’t afford to follow the codes
- There aren’t enough bleachers available to rent that follow the codes
Where we want to be:
Have all public events follow the same building code and safety standards.
How can this happen?
- Rules about codes and standards must be enforced
- The bleachers must be affordable
- There must be enough safe bleachers available for rent
From researching and looking to rent bleachers for our own event, we found it very difficult to find bleachers that did meet the building codes. To put this in perspective, I’ll share some quotes we received to rent 1500 seats at our rodeo in 2016 …
Here are the quotes:
- Wooden bleachers = $3/seat = $4500
(non-code compliant, no structural engineered drawings)
- Large mobile bleacher trailers holding 300 people each, $6/seat = $9000
(Metal bleacher frame, wooden seats, engineered, but non-code compliant)
- Scaffolding bleachers (built on-site) = $23/seat =$34,500
(Aluminum bleachers, code compliant and structural drawings provided)
At the time, these were our only three options…. Which would you choose? We chose the first option since we were trying to keep costs as low as possible for our first year. But, after watching them being used and getting feedback, we knew there needed to be a better option. After a lot of research, we began our own company to fill the gap in the market…. The birth of Bleacher Rentals!
If you are organizing a rural event, you will see that the code compliant bleachers are simply way too expensive. Being forced to use these would cause most events to lose money, or have to raise their event tickets to a point that nobody can afford to show up.
I believe the evolution and adoption of the building code for bleachers came on faster than the availability of bleacher rental companies that could meet the need. Therefore, if governments enforced all the rules set out by the building code for public events, very few events would be allowed to run. No more fairs, tractor pulls, demo derbies and rodeos.
Since everyone, including city, government and enforcement officials, want to see our events happen, they all turn a blind eye. The issue of unsafe bleachers is simply being overlooked.
Why have a set of rules and not have to follow them? This just doesn’t make sense to me, even though I can understand how we got to where we are.
Whether building/ reviewing your own bleachers, or looking into rental options, always make sure that your bleachers follow the building code. Ensure they have safe and accessible stairs and walkways, proper guardrails and footboards, and no gaps that are larger than 4” diameter. This will avoid injuries to your guests and potentially lawsuits to you.
* Standard on Bleachers, Folding and Telescopic Seating, and Grandstands, 2012 ICC 300 – https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/ICC3002012
** Ontario Building Code, O Reg 332/12 under Building Code Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c.23 – https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/120332