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Unsafe pitches could send injury claims soaring

POORLY maintained all weather pitches are a growing threat with the potential to cost operators tens of thousands in personal injury claim payouts.

That’s the view shared by industry insiders who believe many operators are leaving themselves open to litigation by ignoring Sports England and FA guidance.

“An increasing number of schools and community groups are investing in all weather pitches and unless proper maintenance is carried out, we will see a huge rise in personal injury claims,” warns lawyer David Mellor, a senior partner at Oldham-based Mellor Hargreaves.

Mr Mellor believes many management companies responsible for all weather pitches are ignorant about the risks they are taking.

Sports-Maintenance-4-MIFM-Feb16He says: “Anecdotally, we know poorly maintained pitches cause injuries. And in this regard the law is quite clear – operators have a duty of care.

“As a lawyer, I know that if I can identify a causal link between an injury and a poorly maintained surface, a personal injury claim is likely to be successful.”

He adds: “There’s a misconception out there that artificial turf is maintenance free, and that’s simply not the case.

“If surfaces are being used every day of the week, as many are, they deteriorate and that’s when accidents are more likely to happen.”

Tim Gallagher, director of Sports Maintenance Services, a nationwide service provider, echoes his views saying: “When it comes to natural turf, performance standards are open-ended and as the level of utilisation on such surfaces is limited due to wear, they are not ideal for lettings on a 24/7/365 basis.

“But it’s an entirely different story with all weather surfaces. They are man-made systems that can sustain high levels of utilisation for lettings, and they in turn have set standards that must ensure they are fit for purpose.

“Management companies can’t bury their heads in the sand and hope they’ll get away with no maintenance, or even minimum maintenance, when such surfaces are being used day-in, day-out all year round.

“There has to be a proper regime in place. Without it, they risk leaving themselves open to liability.”

Inadequately maintained programmes for all weather pitches can cause infill compaction and infill contamination, leading to drainage problems that result in either silt residues ponding on the surface or frozen surfaces, both of which create hazardous conditions for end users.

Other problems that can contribute to accidents for end users include excess or displaced infill, flattened or unsupported carpet fibres, seam failures and sub-base irregularities.

Sports England recommends an annual check by a UKAS accredited company on surfaces that are primarily for multi-use recreational sport activities.

The organisation’s official guidance states: “Even when no competition regulations apply, compliance with relevant standards is often required in order to ensure the facility is ‘fit for purpose’ and to show that the site operator is complying with their legal obligations and the requirements of their insurers.

“As the performance of a playing surface will change throughout its life, periodic re-testing should be undertaken to ensure the facility is still performing to the required standards.”

The Football Association also backs regular testing and recently introduced a 3G register for pitches used for FA affiliated matches. Only pitches that have been successfully tested by one of four UK accredited test institutes can be listed on the register.

However, Callum Reid, Director of London-based Surface Performance Ltd, one of the UKAS-accredited testing companies in the UK, warns there is still a long way to go with regards to pitches used for recreational use.

Sports-Maintenance-MIFM-2-Feb16He says: “Of the pitches that we test, around 40% of those that are three years or older fail to meet the performance requirements of BS EN 15330. That can be due to a number of problems such as a compacted surface, dispersed rubber infill or split seams that can create a trip hazard.

“There was a time when only the pitches in higher leagues were tested, but the need to do so is beginning to filter down to the likes of schools and community facilities.

“I’m amazed it has taken so long because we receive regular calls now from law firms representing someone who has been injured on an all weather pitch.

“The ‘claim culture’ is growing and operators need to take positive actions to ensure their surfaces are safe.”

Tim Gallagher says carpet manufacturers do inform customers about the need for maintenance.

However, from his perspective, he says: “The frequency and intensity of maintenance procedures is often understated by the supply chain resulting in surfaces quickly falling outside their performance requirements be they recreational or competitive. As a consequence, safety is being compromised.

“Also, there is a reluctance to draw attention to higher running costs linked to more intensive and test-regulated maintenance programmes as this is not a good selling point.”

Sports-Maintenance-1-MIFM-Feb16David Mellor adds: “In theory, imperfections on an all weather pitch are no different to pot holes in a road or spillages on the floor of a supermarket.

“If you can show you have done everything possible to ensure customer safety, then that’s a defence.

“But if someone has a bad accident on an all weather pitch, the first thing I’d be asking to see would be the management company’s maintenance records.

“If they weren’t in order or were insufficient, I’d consider that to be a case worth pursuing.

“In such circumstances, it could be argued that the company had been negligent because they had not followed the manufacturer’s instructions.

“Ultimately, I think it won’t be long before insurers are routinely asking operators if they are following a maintenance regime with annual testing– so that type of pressure is coming.”

For more information visit http://sportsmaintenance.com or email info@sportsmaintenance.com

-ends-

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