These pictures, and similar ones I post here in the Theatre Safety Blog, and those that I show in my USITT workshops "What's Wrong With This Picture?" are all intended to make you take pause and think about what may be lurking in your theatre, or that theatre that you may be traveling to for your next show.
These types of poorly thought-out assemblies really go to show you how important it is to have your facility inspected by an objective party. Things that you may casually dismiss because you've come to see them every day may actually be a really serious hazard. A fresh set of eyes can be key to getting a wake-up call. Independent Consultants (insert shameless plug for my company, Teqniqal Systems, here) can be a great resource for this as they work objectively and are not interested in selling you new equipment, just seeing that you are aware of the current state of affairs with your facility.
The NFPA 80 Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, 5.2, requires that you have your Fire Curtain inspected annually, so this is a good time to have the rest of the rigging system inspected as well. If your facility is operating under OSHA (State plan, or Federal plan, or even if it's not - it's still a really good idea), then you are required to have your Rigging Systems inspected annually.
Not to be forgotten, your Smoke Vents (an important part of the Fire Curtain System along with the Fire Doors) must be tested annually. Your Smoke Vents should have rigging that facilitates the operation from the stage floor level (don't tell me you are going to go to the grid iron deck to open them to clear-out extraneous atmospheric effects or summer heat). This smoke hatch rigging (be it mechanical or motorized) must be inspected semi-annually as a part of the Smoke Vent inspections. Ref: NFPA 204 Standard for Smoke and Heat Venting, 22.214.171.124.
Ask a lot of questions about the report that you are going to pay for. What does the inspection include / exclude? How long will it take? Who should be present?
"Will you shut me down if I fail?" is a common question I get. My answer is this: I'm just the messenger. I report what I see and put it in context so you and your administration can understand it and the potential consequences. I quote relevant building or safety codes, if applicable to the situation. I am not the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction). You are my customer, so I report to you. Your building condition is your business, so you can act on the report as you deem appropriate. Hopefully, you will get the broken stuff fixed.
One thing at a time: Typically, a Rigging System Safety Assessment report will NOT include any design or specific engineered solutions. It is only a report on the conditions. Why is this excluded? At the time I contract with you to perform the inspection, I will usually only know the general nature of the building layout and rigging systems, I will not yet have seen any of the actual conditions - how could I possibly estimate the cost of my services to (re)design a fix for what I have not seen?
"How much does this cost?" is the battle cry of the administrators. Don't be smug and ask them why it matters - or retort "Would they rather pay for a funeral?" That's not the question. "How much does it cost?" means that they need to find the funds and understand the value. When they understand what this inspection entails, why it is important and/or necessary, then they can address the funding issue. You can help the process by remaining calm and professional. Drama Queens can alienate the administrators if they present more bluster than facts. A good consultant can help you to educate them about this investment / recurring annual maintenance cost.
A little help on your part can be useful, too. Do some research with your insurance provider, safety department, or even your regional / national arts groups. Sometimes they have grant money available to help defray the cost of this work. If it involves facility planning (that is what this is - planning for necessary improvements) and/or safety, the money is usually out there.
The answer, like so many things in life, is: "It depends." You should be suspicious of anyone that offers you a "Free" or "Discounted" rigging assessment. It will likely be worthless and largely incomplete. This type of work takes time. Time = Money. No one makes a living on 'free'. At a minimum, you are paying for the person's travel time and expenses to and from your facility, the time on-site actually testing, inspecting, observing, interviewing, photographing, and documenting what they find. They then must organize all their findings into a coherent report that addresses your specific facility and put the information in context. Each item should be clearly tagged with recommendations as to what needs removed, repaired, replaced, re-designed, etc. The time expended writing the report can be many times the hours spent on-site.
The "It depends" factor is complex: Do you have a walk-on gridiron? Or do I need to rent a man-lift to go up a bazillion feet? Do you have 1, 2, or 3 loading galleries? How many line sets do you have? How many are motorized? Is this a Union House? Am I inspecting just the Rigging System, or am I doing the Drapes, Fire Curtain, Smoke Vents, and all the scabbed-on rigging at the Tormentors, Beam Electrics, Speaker Clusters, and Orchestra Shell components? Is there an Orchestra Pit Lift? Am I inspecting Fire Doors, Fire Alarms, and/or any other Life Safety Systems?
Be efficient with your investment. Is your facility part of a School or College District that has multiple venues? If so, then seriously consider having all the venues inspected under one contract. No, this isn't a money grab. It is about identifying the sources of problems. If your inspector can assess 2, 4, or a dozen facilities as a whole, then the report you receive should be more manageable. The areas of common concern can be discussed once, and the unique 'features' of each system or building can be addressed individually. This allows you and your administration to see items that are systemic in nature and those that are local in nature. A big picture that speaks to all of the district's Theatre Safety needs can be a powerful impetus for change and improvements.
Once the report is written and submitted, you will have a chance to read it and discuss it with your staff. Don't shoot the messenger. Understand that the inspector does not have an agenda, they are not 'out to get you', they are not seeking to close-down your theatre.
As Sergeant Joe Friday would say: "Just the facts, ma'am." Don't interpret the safety report as an indictment of your operations or management. It is not. However, it may point to some areas of your operations that could use improvement. The most dangerous part of a rigging system is the people that operate it. Use your rigging safety report to improve your policies, methodologies, and show preparation. Use it to plan repairs, upgrades, and service. Learn from it.
Questions? Call me or write me!