I think we can all agree that creating a safe environment for our event attendees should be at the top of our priority list.  

Bleachers are an important component of many spectator events, but the safety and structural integrity of aging bleachers is often overlooked, especially at rural events.

In today’s blog, I will be reviewing riser boards and foot boards; an area often overlooked by event organizers.

I didn’t realize the importance of proper riser boards and foot boards until after our second rodeo event.  We were renting wooden bleachers, and had switched from 5 row bleachers to 10 row bleachers, increasing our capacity from 700 seats to 1400 total seats. The county allowed us to use these bleachers, so I figured they must be safe. No building permit was needed, and the guys we rented from had rented these same units to events for over 30 years.

After they were set up, I felt they looked really unsafe, and started prying for information…

  • Do these bleachers meet the building code? Answer:  No
  • Were these designed by, or reviewed by, an engineer? Answer: No
  • How do you know they won’t just fall over, when 1000 people are sitting on them? Answer: well, they haven’t fallen over in the past …
  • These boards are looking a little aged, has any of them aver broke?   Answer: Yes, we had one break a couple years ago, and a lady broke her leg
  • Do you have liability insurance at least, so I’m covered if this happens again?  Answer: Yes we do  (Phew… one right answer!)

As you can probably already guess, I was less than pleased with the answered I received. However, they were already set up, and I felt like we really had no other option. Link: (see my previous blog post about the limited seating rental options we had at the time). My mind was racing constantly, thinking and worrying about the possible scenario that something could go wrong and my guests could be hurt.

We opened the gates at 9:30 am (half an hour before our scheduled 10 am opening time, because the cars were lined up down the road!) for a 2 pm show start time. The cars didn’t slow down until the show began at 2pm… a good problem to have!  After returning to the event area to see how things looked, I saw that our unsafe bleacher setup was overloaded with 2000+ people sitting on every available space.

“I hope these things hold”, was my ongoing thought all weekend. I couldn’t sleep from the worry that something that could happen because we didn’t do our part by renting safer bleachers.

Luckily, all major catastrophes were avoided, and the event was a success. However, in the feedback survey we sent out after the event, we got a lot of complaints about the seating. People wanted bleachers that were safer and more accessible, especially for young children and seniors.

We need a better option, I thought to myself.

At this point I became obsessed about finding out everything there is to know about bleachers; Do we have another option? Who else is currently renting  bleachers – are they happy with the they have?  what are their concerns? What are the actual safety rules around bleachers in Ontario?

In the spring of 2018, Bleacher Rentals was born, because I needed to make that better option available.

Safe Risers and Footboards:

There were a number of reasons that the wooden bleacher we rented were unsafe, but one of my main concerns was the large openings between the footboards and risers. Kids could climb them and fall through easily.

Once I did my research, this is what I found…

International building code (IBC) for bleacher footboards and risers: 

  1. Footboards must be at least 3/4 of the row spacing.   (Ex: If you have 24” row spacing, an 18” footboard is required)
  2. If double footboards are used, then a space between them of less than 1/4” is required
  3. Openings between footboards and seat boards must not allow a 4” sphere to pass through, when higher than 30” *
  4. Footboards and stairs must have a smooth transition (no change in height from the stair to the walkway)

The rationale behind the 4” sphere rule is because 95% of all children aged 4 months of age or older would be prevented from completely easing though a 4” opening. Most bleacher injuries and deaths occur in children under 10 years old.*

Is it worth the risk of injury to your guests, and potential lawsuits? Or would you sleep easier at night knowing you have safe bleachers that follow the building code?

Whether building or renovating your own bleachers, or looking into renting bleachers, always make sure you are following the building code, to keep your attendees safe! Check to make sure the risers and footboards follow the code. If a 4” ball can fit through, they are not code compliant!

These building code requirements are put here for our safety.

Let’s all do our part, and work together to keep our events safe.