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Party/fiesta tent guidance for safe use

Lightweight and easy to maintain, plastic framed party type tents have become a good value option to traditional canvas mess tents – however the type of use for them needs to be considered carefully.

FS120344

(Published April 2022, replacing June 2019)

This guidance will raise awareness of some of the hazards surrounding the use of large, frame based tents to help you assess the risks and work out suitable controls required.

Scouting often uses lightweight, plastic material tentage away as well as traditional heavier canvas tents such as mess tents, patrol tents etc. Lightweight tents are also used extensively at large scale events and often referred to as ‘Fiesta’ or ‘Party’ tents.

There have been several incidents with party tents where sudden, short term bad weather circumstances have led to injury or damage.

The Scouts requires members to undertake and record a risk assessment for all activities and events to determine what is, or is not, safe for their circumstances.

Good information, instruction and training will help you manage and control some of the risks such as:

  • the skill and competence of the persons erecting the tent
  • the age or quality of the equipment
  • the suitability of the equipment for the event
  • anchoring the tent safely

Other elements, such as weather conditions, are obviously not in your control but MUST be considered.  Risk assessment requires you to consider what is reasonably foreseeable (i.e. rack your brains and think of all the things that could go wrong) and to be objective in the assessment.

What actions will “control" the risk? (i.e. eliminate or reduce the risk).

Here are some common hazards:

Party tents are generally made of a very lightweight man made polyester type material, and the material is more liable to flying off in a burst of wind so you may need additional bodies to handle it. Make sure those helping are physically capable of helping erect the tent

Canvas is much heavier and there is a greater risk of manual handling injuries when lifting canvas off and onto frames or for storing.

Always refer to the manufactures guidelines to determine what wind speeds the tent is suitable for use in. Have a look at weather forecasts prior to the event to see if the weather conditions may cause concerns or potential problems.

In exposed windy areas try to shelter the tent by placing near high hedges, tree lines or buildings. When weather is more likely to be a factor such as in the winter period or when exposed to off shore winds, then the design, condition, structure and means of securing to the ground must be seriously considered.

Securing the tent to the ground will be a crucial element.  Many party tents are supplied with small ratchet straps and large pegs so that the frame can be secured to the grass.  If in doubt, use additional or stronger ratchets and pegs than supplied with the tent, however, make sure the straps do not put excessive strain on the poles!

On solid ground, where pegs are not an option, the use of weights for tying off the ropes or ratchet straps should be made available. (e.g.  the base weights for ‘Herras’ fencing are great as they have holes cast in them to tie off to).  You obviously need to have a reasonable number available and ready and don’t assume a site will have them available for your use.

Where the tent has a ground frame strut, the weights should again be tied on so the weight cannot slip off if the tent lifts.

Ensure there are at least 6 weights, one for each corner and one each midway along each long side, for the tie off ropes or ratchet straps.

Monitor the weather.  Gusty conditions, even in summer, can be volatile.

Have a Plan - In really extreme weather conditions, you can’t guarantee any tent will stand firm, but you can remove people at risk if it looks to be a problem.  Be prepared to evacuate the tents and move people away to a place of safety. Taking them down may increase the risk of a “fly away”.

The lightweight material is highly prone to flying if the wind gets under it and when tents are left with sides open, this risk increases. When rigging and de-rigging, you cannot avoid this risk but you can minimise the number of persons exposed to the risk. Again, make sure those helping are physically capable of helping.

Consider the activities within the tent that may add additional risk in the event of a failure. In particular, the use of cooking equipment or urns.

The lightweight material used during erection will become much heavier when wet and will increase the likelihood of slips.  Handling and footing will also become a hazard as well as the securing of the pegs which could become difficult. Care must be taken for your safety as well as those involved with the erection of the tent during such adverse conditions.

Man-made material is usually highly flammable and if any cooking or open flame activity takes place inside the tent than suitable distances from the sides of the tent must be maintained.

Canvas material should be treated with a fire retardant spray as part of the waterproofing of the material. Canvas will burn, but the ignition time is generally longer than party tents.

Advice about keeping gas burner flames away from the tent sides remains for all tents. The risk of Carbon Monoxide and the need for good ventilation remains the same. It is good practice to have a flap open for ventilation near to the cooking equipment if used.

Generally a ‘slot together’ tubular frame structure is designed to support the weight of the covering.

Ensure you visually inspect the tubing and connectors prior to use to ensure all parts are structurally sound and there is no failure in the welds or significant damage. Refer to the manufacturers' guidance document which normally has a section on inspecting the pole and frame components.

Construction Tips:

  • Check the weather before erecting, use weather forecasts to determine if the weather will change over the course of the event. 
  • Select the location for pitching the tent carefully. Look for shallow dips or depressions in the ground where water could gather if it rains. Similarly, pitching your large tent at the base of a hill could cause unwanted water flow through your tent in rainy weather.
  • When erecting and de-rigging the tentage, ensure there are adequate numbers of physically capable, experienced helpers especially when handling the tent material and placing it over/off the frame.
  • Secure the material corners down or use guys to ensure it does not blow away if this is practicable.
  • When on grass or soft ground (as opposed to tarmac), have some suitable metal pegs (for anchoring) either ropes or ratchet straps to  (Ideally a minimum of 400 mm long and 12 mm diameter if dog screw pegs are not available.  Also refer to the manufactures guidelines as to types of pegs advised.
  • Ensure the pegs are positioned in the ground before handling the material, so the ‘over the top’ ropes or ratchet straps can be attached beforehand or quickly if needed. The ratchet straps are used to secure the frame to the ground and the cover is fixed to the frame with the short 'bungee' cords
  • Ensure the suitable metal pegs are available for securing the frame in position. Try to get an angle on the pegs as opposed to going straight down.
  • Some manufacturers advise that ‘Tie Down Kits’ are used. You should always check your own manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If you think the weather is going to be too windy, or you are in doubt, it is sometimes better to use an alternative rather than a Party Tent.

Monitoring (dynamic risk assessment)

Once the tent is up, ensure leaders are weather watching, considering the potential risk from changing conditions and heavy use.  This should form part of the briefing from the leader in charge.