Managing safety in Escape Rooms
TIC Insurance recently wrote an article on “How To Manage Escape Room Risks Without Spoiling The Fun”. While it notes that every business must comply with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, the legislation requires businesses to take ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent accidents or injuries.
So what are ‘reasonable steps’ as far as an escape room goes? And when does an escape room switch from being a play of amusement to a place of incarceration? Do escape rooms really lock you in?
For a start, a lot of escape room website state that players are not actually locked in the room. Either the entrance door remains unlocked, so players can escape the way they entered or there are panic buttons that release the doors should players want/need to leave. So no panic there.
Escape rooms offer an immersive adventure. That immersion can be lost if escape rooms add “mind the step” and “mind your head” signs around the place. You don’t want to spoil the illusion and reveal the existence of a hidden room by signage. Games Masters can include general safety instruction during their briefing, including notes to mind your heads and mind where you step instead.
Fire alarm sensors and electrical wiring can be camouflaged to fit into the theme of the room. And things that must not be touched for safety reasons can be marked.
Most Games Masters stress that their games involve logic and problem-solving skills not physical strength and that players are not to destroy the props.
Amusement or incarceration?
Verisk insurance published an article about escaping ‘escape room’ risk in 2017. It explored how escape rooms should be classified.
One school of thought is that escape rooms can be rooms used for assembly and may be considered as special amusement buildings. However, another school of thought is that escape rooms more closely fit the definition of a true lockup.
The NFPA defines a lockup as “an incidental use area in other than a detention and correctional occupancy where occupants are restrained and such occupants are mostly incapable of self-preservation because of security measures not under the occupants’ control.”
So while all escape rooms are meant to be fun, some also restrain the players. Does this also restrict the players ability for self-preservation?
The safety implications are obvious. If someone is locked in a room without an easy means of escape, what happens in the event of a fire or other disaster? What if someone becomes ill or is injured?
Well, as noted above most escape room websites state that players are not actually locked in the room. Either the entrance door remains unlocked or there are panic button door releases.
Great, so this covers rooms without restraints, but what if the room includes players being chained up or locked in cells? In this case Verisk insurance recommend that:
- Within two minutes, staff must be able to release doors and other physical restraints that compromise participants’ free egress.
- Staff should be in sufficient proximity to the lockup to enable the two-minute release.
- The facility must have staff authorized, trained, and practiced to facilitate the release.
- Participants cannot be restrained from evacuating without the assistance of others.
I’ve raised the point before that most games tell you not to destroy the props. This is so ingrained that we’ve sometimes played games where we’ve been unclear if we can write on things or not.
On the other hand, we have also come across a game that require you to actively destroy a prop. While we were warned in advance that there were potential dangerous props in the room, we were surprised that the game required physical strength and the ability to use such tools safely.
At another game a wall socket needed to be dismantled. Again, this was a surprise as normally fiddling with the electrics is forbidden.
However, my major concern with escape rooms is the use of restraints.
We have played a room where team members were handcuffed on separate sides of the room. The first puzzle was to release one of the players, who released the rest. It took less than 5 minutes for all players to be free. No panic was involved.
However, we played another game where where team members were handcuffed in a line and attached to a wall. The first series of puzzles released one player, who had to “break into” a cell and solve other puzzles before they could release the rest of us. This took over 15 minutes. We considered this a health hazard, especially as we were in a basement and the Games Master was located on another floor. What if there was a fire and they couldn’t come down and release us?
At another game we were chained up and locked in a cell and had to call the Games Master to release us after 15 minutes. It was an agonising wait to see if they were coming to release us and a feeling of panic over what if they didn’t.
Escape rooms should consider the implications of incarcerating their players. Do they want their players to have fun or to be terrified for their own safety?
Let me know what your thoughts are.