3G Sports Pitches: What you need to consider

  • Recently, there have been a number of concerns raised around a link between 3G sport pitch use and incidents of cancer
  • There are many factors which might impact this risk, but currently, there is no scientific agreement on the subject
  • We consider the potential impact to liability policies and best practice to follow

A possible link between use of artificial 3G sports pitches and long term health risks, such as cancer, has recently been raised as a cause for concern following a study published in the USA and a UK father’s allegation that exposure to the pitch surface caused his son’s cancer.

The pitches use small pieces of rubber crumb, generally made from recycled vehicle tyres, as an artificial support to prevent wear and tear. There are growing concerns that any harmful substances, that may have been present in the tyre, could be absorbed by individuals using the pitch and that repeated exposure may increase the risk of developing cancer.

The investigation continues

Scientific enquiries have a lot of variables to consider as there are many factors which might alter the level of risk beyond just tyre content, including ventilation, pitch maintenance, frequency of exposure and temperature. An individual may also be exposed to carcinogenic materials in another area of their life.

In addition, regulation of tyre content in the EU is stricter than that in the USA; mercury and benzene is prohibited, and the levels of lead and cadmium are of trace level.

Studies on the exposure to rubber within the rubber industry by HSE have also shown there is no increase in frequency of lung or stomach cancer above those normally seen in the UK population, since improvements to regulation of the industry in 1986.

Overall, there is currently no scientific agreement on the link between 3G pitches and any health risks. As such, to gain a better understanding of the potential risks, a US multi-agency investigation has been launched to study key environmental human health questions.

The agencies are planning to release a draft status report describing their preliminary findings and conclusions so far by the end of 2016.

The possible impact on your liability

Due to the current uncertainty around the potential risk of rubber crumb, there is minimal potential for a claim to be made on a product, public or employer’s liability policy in the case of ill-health. If you have purchased the relevant policy, it will respond to ensure that you are protected, and we will be monitoring the situation as more studies are undertaken.

Over the years, many issues that have emerged that could not have been accounted for by underwriters and at this time it is too soon to say if this issue would result in liability being attributed.

David Hounsell, Casualty Risk Consultant, Zurich Muncipal suggests how to keep on top of any potential claims.

“Where possible, adopt a sensible, precautionary approach. This should involve reviewing your current working practices to ensure they are aligned to best practices. This will help to demonstrate your level of knowledge and high standards, providing reassurance to pitch users”

Adopt a sensible, precautionary approach. This should involve reviewing your current working practices to ensure they are aligned to best practices.

David Hounsell, Casualty Risk Consultant, Zurich Municipal

1) Planning

When planning to include a new pitch at your location, it is a good idea to consider the following:

  • Is artificial turf the best option for your facility; does it offer an overall benefit compared to natural turf?
  • Is a 3G pitch the best overall option for the sport(s), environment and usage level you are planning for?
  • Have you used a risk management approach to the plan that balances potential risks?
  • Can you provide all relevant information to pitch designers and contractors?

2) Contractors

Once planning is complete, and contractor selection has begun, consider the following:

  • Do they have third party accreditation such as SAPCA?
  • What standards will they design and build to?
  • Can they provide health, safety and environmental information about the materials they use?
  • How do they manage waste materials?
  • Can they provide maintenance services or instruct your staff in the safe maintenance of the pitch?
  • Does the contract make the designer/contractor solely responsible for product, design and construction liability?
  • Do third parties have adequate insurance in place?

3) Installation, operation and maintenance

Once built, it is important to consider:

  • Is there an independent check on the completed installation to ensure design specifications are met?
  • Have you received all the operations and maintenance manuals and instructions?
  • Is a maintenance regime in place to keep the pitch in a safe condition?
  • Do operations regimes need to change depending on the season?
  • Is there a risk assessment and safe system of work for maintenance including storage, handling and disposal of rubber crumb?
  • Does any maintenance contract make the contractor solely responsible for liability?
  • Do third parties have adequate insurance in place?
  • Are there comprehensive records of inspection, maintenance and repair activities?

4) Public Use

If the pitch is constructed and maintained in accordance with codes of practice and manufacturer’s instructions, it should be safe for public use as envisaged.

As with any sport, personal hygiene should be promoted, including cleaning and covering wounds before playing and thorough hand washing before eating or following a session.

Check that your first aid and welfare facilities are correctly provisioned and that you are able to communicate these safety messages through signage, or even user agreements.

Young children should also be adequately supervised.

Records and reporting

It is good practice to accurately record all reports of ill-health from employees and the public, not just in relation to 3G pitch concerns.

We know it is often difficult to get personal information from the public but the following would be useful, as applicable:

  • Full name and address
  • Date of report
  • Symptoms/Signs
  • Has it been reported to GP for a diagnosis? [Public]
  • Has it been reported to Occupational Health? [Employees]
  • How many times/how long do they play on your pitch?
  • What sport do they play?
  • Other venues attended, including how often
  • Other jobs, recreational or social activities

Any supporting evidence or documentation should be included too, such as:

  • Risk assessments
  • Safe systems of work
  • Maintenance regime

As result of the potentially of illnesses not developing for several years, it is recommended that records associated with 3G pitches are kept for at least 25 years.