Writing a sound Race Risk Assesment

red fire extinguisher on green wall

Whoever said “the difference between reckless and risk is planning” knew what they were talking about. If you are managing a race, a risk management plan needs to be in place. 

When running an event, the organizer has several areas of responsibility. Among the most important is to provide a safe environment for participants, spectators, staff and other stakeholders. This includes protecting the assets of the organizations, facility and other entities involved in the event, and fairly executing processes and policies within the plan. The risk-management plan will also need subcategories and plans for emergency management, communications and disaster recovery.

The biggest thing to remember about a risk-management plan is that it needs to be a living, breathing document that can be adapted to each situation. It is important that when you are developing your plan, you follow these key steps:

  1. Risk Identification: There is no such thing as a risk-free event. Perform a top-to-bottom review of your event to identify any items that present a potential risk.
  2. Risk Evaluation: Assess each identified risk and assign it a priority based off the likelihood of its occurrence and the impact it will have on participants and the overall event. 
  3. Risk Mitigation: Find solutions to reduce or eliminate the impact of hazards. Understand some risks can’t be mitigated.

The main purpose of a risk-management plan is to provide a safe environment during your event. This needs to include not only participants, but also spectators and your staff.

Many of those involved in road running will have carried out risk assessments informally in the past - both in designing courses and the general planning of events. We can all find we overlook things no matter how much guidance we’re given! So its worth having documents to refer back to when drafting up your official risk management plan, particularly for those relatively new to organising events. 

Road races (as for other public events) are increasingly being subjected to Safety Advisory Groups (SAGs). These are convened by the local authority in whose area the event is to be held. The Police usually play an influential role within SAGs and the other emergency services are also often involved. Neither the Police nor a SAG actually have direct power to prohibit an event, but they can make life extremely difficult for the organisers where they are unhappy about race arrangements. See our guide for more on working with Councils and SAGs. 

Risks athletes should expect

A degree of risk is inevitable in almost all sports - e.g. from hard cricket and hockey balls, or being tackled to the ground in rugby. Road runners should expect to encounter the following (up to a point):

  1. Hard physical effort
  2. Adverse weather conditions e.g. cold, wet, wind, snow, heat
  3. Possible unevenness in road or footpath surfaces
  4. Jostling, particularly at larger events
  5. Presence of other road or footpath users, particularly vehicles.

Athletes should both bring and wear suitable clothing and footwear However, the ages, abilities and experience of athletes must also be taken into account as an organiser as part of the risk assessment process.

Here are a couple of heading topics you can use as a starting point when drafting out your risk assessment, with the pointers that we used earlier: Risk identification, risk evaluation and risk mitigation: 

Event Facilities 

  • Traffic approach routes. How should cars get to your venue? Are there any other events taking place on that date which could impact traffic? Coaches may need to be routed differently to avoid narrow openings or tight turns. For larger events, liaison with the Police, the local authority and the AA or RA might be necessary. Clearly visible signs should be provided on approach routes and marshals (wearing high visibility clothing) are likely to be necessary.
  • Parking (cars and coaches)  An early consideration of any event must be where those attending will park. Locations should be chosen to be as close as practicable to the race base and course. Separate parking arrangements may be necessary if coaches are expected to attend. Where space for coaches is limited, areas may need to be identified for them to drop off passengers and collect them after the event, with the coaches parked elsewhere in between. 
  • Registration & Enquiries. Have you got a suitable location for taking entrie/race number collection? Is it clearly sign posted? Whether this should be on the course or at a separate base will be a matter for local consideration. Wherever is chosen, it is essential that those providing this service are suitably protected from the elements (a safely parked vehicle may be adequate for small events). If separate locations are used for dealing with enquiries, they also must be protected. Clear signage is important, particularly at larger events.
  • Covered accommodation. It is not always possible to find courses with suitable buildings close at hand to provide changing rooms and other facilities. If no suitable buildings are available or the event base is some distance from the course then it may be necessary to provide some form of cover near the course. Accommodation must be sufficient for all those athletes and officials who may need to use it in the event of severe weather. (At some events programmes can last several hours and club coaches may be parked a considerable distance away). Where marquees are to be used for changing, separate male and female accommodation must be available.
  • Toilets (Base and/or Course) Sufficient toilet accommodation should be available close to the course (preferably near the start) and at any separate buildings used. Most competitors are likely to use the facilities shortly before their race. For larger events this is likely to require the provision of 'portaloos'. Facilities for any disabled competitors should be available and disabled officials and spectators may need to be taken into account. Adequate supplies of toilet paper should be provided - it is easy to underestimate the need for both paper and toilet accommodation. At larger events marshals may need to be made responsible for monitoring the condition of the toilets. Signs should indicate where the toilets are if this is not readily apparent
  • Route to Course Where the event base and/or parking is a long way from the course, the route should be clearly indicated by suitable signs or maps (e.g. in information sheets or programmes). Routes should be chosen to avoid potentially dangerous road crossings. If major roads do have to be crossed then crossing points should be clearly designated and staffed by marshals (with high visibility clothing).

The Course

  • The Start line The start should be of adequate width for the anticipated numbers of runners. The starting straight should be sufficiently long for the field to spread out before any tight turns are encountered. At least 100 metres of straight will be necessary (longer for larger numbers of runners) and any early bends should be gradual. Steep downhill starts should be avoided as also should low level 'street furniture' e.g. bollards, waste bins, signs (alternatively it may be possible to protect or clearly mark such items so that their presence is obvious above groups of runners). Where races take place on 'live' roads, runners should assemble off the road prior to the start. For large events competitors should be encouraged to line up with the faster runners at the front- signs indicating anticipated finishing times will assist in this process. Barriers will be required at larger events to keep spectators off the course during the start.
  • Finish - position / layout. The finish should preferably be off road or at least on roads with low levels of traffic. Steep downhill finishes must be avoided, as also should tight turns shortly before the finish (when competitors may be sprinting for the line). Where a finish on a 'live' road is unavoidable, competitors may need to be separated from the traffic (by metal barriers, cones or tape dependent on the volume and speed of traffic). Similar criteria must be applied to protecting finish officials where they cannot carry out their duties from off the road. Officials in vulnerable positions should wear clearly visible clothing e.g. bright coats or tabards. Particularly at larger events, use of barriers, cones or tape may be necessary to keep spectators and runners who have finished out of the way of the finish area and the straight leading up to it.
  • The Route - significant risks e.g. right hand turns, major junctions, narrow sections etc. Circular courses on 'live' roads should normally be anti-clockwise, thus allowing predominantly left hand turns. Aspects to try to avoid when planning a route are:
    • right hand turns, especially across busy roads
    • crossing major junctions or roundabouts
    • crossing entrances to large premises which will be open
    • very narrow roads, particularly those with blind corners or hills
    • heavily used bus stops
    • areas where parked vehicles are likely to be present
    • level crossings
    • bridges which can swing or rise.
      However, risks from these sources may be reduced to an acceptable level by measures such as:
    • the use of warning and no parking signs 
    • presence of course marshals
    • short diversions of runners off the road (e.g. onto footpaths)
    • coning off corners or short sections to protect runners 
    • temporary road closures
    • temporary bus stop closures
    • assurances from rail operators or other authorities re. level crossings or bridges
  • Need for warning signage, no parking arrangements Where races are run on open roads, signs will normally be necessary to warn oncoming traffic of runners on the road. At major junctions, narrow sections of the course, blind corners or hills, or where runners enter a major road from a minor one. In some situations, particularly on narrow roads, signs on both sides of the road will be necessary, rather than just the side that athletes are running on. Signs must be placed high enough to be seen by drivers. Actions may be necessary to prevent parking where parked vehicles may force runners out into a dangerous position or could obstruct the vision of oncoming drivers.
  • Lead vehicle A vehicle with hazard warning lights on, or a motorcyclist or cyclist in high visibility clothing should lead the runners round the course. As well as showing the route, on open roads this will provide a clear indication to oncoming traffic that the event is in progress. Consideration must be given to safe arrangements for the lead vehicle to turn off or park at the finish.
  • Sweep up vehicle.  On point to point or large circuit courses a 'sweep up' vehicle should be provided to collect runners who have dropped out.
  • Drinks and sponge stations.  UK Athletics Rules require drinks stations to be provided for races of 10 km and above at 5km intervals and at the finish. For some events sponge stations may also be provided. For races on 'live' roads these should be positioned off the main carriageway (e.g. on footpaths or in lay-bys or gate openings) and away from higher risk parts of the course. 

Personelle / Equipment

  • First Aid provision. The level and nature of first aid cover must relate to the numbers of runners, the capabilities of participants (an event attracting a high proportion of novices would justify more cover than a predominantly club race), anticipated weather conditions and the length and severity of the course. Cover should be arranged (and confirmed) well in advance.
  • Traffic / Parking marshals. At larger events, organisers are likely to need to provide their own (adult) marshals to control traffic, parking and pedestrians. However, it must be noted that marshals do not actually have any legal powers to direct traffic. Marshals should be advised to bring warm and waterproof clothing and be provided with high visibility clothing e.g. jackets, vests or tabards. They should also be equipped with suitable forms of communication e.g. radios or mobile phones.
  • Course Equipment. Equipment such as posts, tape, cones, signs, barriers etc. is particularly likely to be needed at the start and finish areas and may also be required at other locations on the course. A sufficient number of physically fit people will need to be allocated to marking the course and then removing equipment after the event.
  • Course marshals. Adult marshals should be provided at any critical points on the course, particularly significant road intersections. Their duties will include some or all of the following: 
    • placing (and recovering) warning and directional sign
    • preventing competitors following the wrong route
    • acting as an additional means of warning drivers
    • requesting drivers to slow down or stop
    • liaising with and assisting police officers e.g. in controlling traffic
    • controlling spectators and other pedestrians 
    • directing competitors at or close to the finish
    • summoning first aid assistance.
  • Erection of Temporary Structures. For larger events the erection of temporary structures (such as start/finish gantries or inflatables, stands, marquees, commentary points etc.) may be necessary. Competent, specialist contractors must be engaged for this work and unauthorised alterations to equipment must not be permitted. Contractors must provide a certificate of inspection for scaffolding-type structures once they have been erected. Consideration should be given to possible fire risks within marquees and whether any fire precautions are necessary.
  • Other Equipment. Equipment such as public address systems, generators, lighting and associated cabling may need to be provided for larger events. Specialist contractors are also likely to be necessary for this equipment. Cables should be positioned to minimise tripping risks and prevent possible damage to the cables - use of overhead gantries or cable covers may be necessary.


To go with this, a map with the following can help you illustrate your points, and get you thinking about some of these things in practice:

  1. Course layout (inc. start/finish)
  2. Location of first aid provision
  3. Barriers, cones etc. 
  4. Drinks and sponge stations (if any)
  5. Location of traffic warning signs - on-course temporary structures (if any)
  6. Positions of course marshals

The last important piece of a risk-management plan is to make sure you are covered legally and financially. Legal help to review contracts for liability coverage and indemnification can be helpful. You also need to make sure you have adequate insurance coverage for all parts of operations, from general liability to vehicles to theft and property damage.

Ultimately, you will never be able to account for every circumstance that arises during an event. There will always be an unknown factor to deal with when you operate live events. However, if you have a proper plan in place, you can easily adapt existing processes, procedures and policies for many unknowns. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Sources:  The Event Safety Guide published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) - reference HSG 195, £20

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