Risks of Tents, Canopies and Umbrellas at Events

Collapsing and fly-away shelters can cause bodily injury and property damage

Tents, canopies and umbrellas are popular shelters and sun shades at sidewalk sales, farmers’ markets, craft fairs, cookouts and sporting events. Unfortunately, it’s all too common to see such equipment inadequately secured. The risk of injuries is great, and property damage can also result when these shelter frames buckle and collapse or they go flying in a gusty wind.

In July 2018, umbrellas sent flying by wind gusts impaled people at Maryland and New Jersey beaches. A number of our sports insurance clients experienced similar mishaps with canopies that blew into spectators and resulted in significant injuries.  

As a matter of fact, one of them recently shared what happened at their youth soccer event:

Opening ceremonies were taking place at the local YMCA on a clear and cloudless morning. Suddenly,  a tornado-like wind burst on the scene. An unstaked canopy went rolling in the air, the legs hitting both a small boy and a woman in their heads. The woman required major surgery on her crushed forehead and she sued the YMCA. The YMCA in turn sued our client because he supplied the canopy. The YMCA did not have secondary insurance covering injured players and participants. Following this tragic event, this soccer league took no more chances. It banned canopies and tents at their games and events, and only allowed hand-held umbrellas.

Best risk management practices for canopies, awnings, tents and umbrellas

Make sure that the people erecting and taking down canopies are not distracted. A poorly-secured canopy is as dangerous as an unsecured canopy.  

Canopy weights should be attached to canopies at all times. Weights should be secured in such a way as to not create a separate safety hazard:

  •      Anchoring weights should not cause a tripping hazard
  •      Ensure weights are attached securely and tethering lines clearly visible
  •      Weights should not have sharp edges that could cut people passing by
  •      Anchor the weights should be on the ground; never hang them overhead

Sufficient weight is at least 24 lbs. per leg. One canopy manufacturer recommends a minimum of 40 lbs. on each corner of a 10’x10’ tent; double that on a 10’x20’ tent. Umbrellas should be anchored by a 50 lb. weight.

Even properly-secured canopies can be precarious in inclement weather. Determine if weather dictates that canopies should be taken down during an event. If so, direct bystanders to stay clear in order to prevent injuries.

Proper canopy anchors

  • Fill 2.5 gallon buckets with cement and tie one to each canopy corner  with a rope or bungee. Do  not place the buckets on the feet of the canopy.
  • Purchase vertical sandbag weights specially designed to be strapped to the canopy legs. Make sure weights are a minimum 24 lbs. each.
  • Fill PVC pipes capped on one end with cement. Attach one to each canopy pole securely.

Improper canopy anchors

  • A gallon of water weighs 8 lbs. Therefore jugs of water are not heavy enough to anchor a canopy in a gust of wind.
  • Tents, canopies or umbrellas tethered to tables, coolers or vehicles make for tripping hazards and are not sufficiently weighed down.
  • Sandbags that don’t sit upright and can’t be securely tied to the tent or canopy should not be used.
  • Tent stakes are tripping hazards and typically do not provide enough anchor in strong wind gusts.
  • Cinder blocks are hard, easy to trip over, and are all too often the cause of broken toes and shins.

Umbrellas

Obviously, it’s best not to erect an umbrella or canopy on windy days. However, if you must, choose one of high quality.  An umbrella made of cheap plastic and a flimsy aluminum frame will not hold up in high winds. Always anchor canopies and tents as directed above.  

Beach umbrellas should always be tilted into the wind and anchored securely.  See the video below for information use of umbrella anchors. You can also purchase sand weights that are made especially for anchoring umbrellas.

We offer other important risk management articles to help lower the risk of liability at markets, festivals and out door events. We also encourage you to call us at (800) 622-7370 if you have questions or to receive a quick quote.


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