A discussion of safety in the Performing Arts for professionals, students, teachers, and administrators. A sometimes terrifying look at some surprising conditions, what you might do about them; and how to plan for better safety in your facility, teaching program, and career.
This week TheatreFace checks in with the people who keep everything safe up there -- the riggers. On Wednesday, August 31 at 2 p.m. Eastern / 11 a.m. Pacific we'll be chatting with reps from J.R. Clancy and TheatreFace.com blogger (and Teqniqal Systems theatre safety consultant) Erich Friend. We'll be discussing what exactly a rigging inspection means, and why they're important.
The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publishes The Event Safety Guide. First authored in 1993, it has been updated and reformatted for easier reading in the Second Edition. Also Known as "The Purple Guide". Available here: www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/hsg195.pdf
Revised to align with recent law changes and event industry best practice. Provides 'tried and tested' advice on which to organize health and safety at music events, although many chapters may also apply to other gatherings sharing similar characteristics. Intended to enable organizers, local authorities, emergency services and HSE to work together to improve safety. As such, this guidance was devised in consultation with an event industry working group. In addition to broader safety headlines, such as venue and site design, fire procedures and major incident planning, the guidance also scopes pertinent circumstantial issues. Accordingly, specifics like transport, barriers, electrics, refreshments, merchandising, amusements, attractions, sanitation, noise, vibration and many other relevant subjects are also considered.
This supersedes the 'Guide to health, safety and welfare at pop concerts and similar events.'
Safe Use and Operation of Temporary Demountable Fabric Structures is a guide book put together by MUTA and is available here:
The American National Standards Institute, Inc. (ANSI) publishes safety standards for the workplace. These standards are key to ensuring worker safety, protecting the environment, and improving productivity.
You can find standards for ladder safety, construction, clothing, equipment, workplace surfaces, signage, occupational health, fire safety, handling of chemicals and gases, labeling and safeguarding standards for equipment, noise, and vibration, and more at www.webstore.ansi.org/safety_standards. Download individual copies or explore multi-user site licenses. If you are part of a school or university system, they may already have a site license that you can benefit from.
Searches are available for a wide range of safety standards from these organizations:
American Ladder Institute (ALI)
American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE)
American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM)
National Eletrical Equuipment Manufacturer's Association (NEMA)
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
International Standards Organization (ISO)
International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA)
American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA); and many others.
Theatres are complex buildings, and they don't usually don't come with an Instruction Manual. You need to know what you can do, and what you can't do. And it usually helps if you can quote the authorities 'Chapter and Verse'. This way people understand that it's not you that's being a pain in the butt, but that there really is a law, rule, or standard that defines the proper way to handle situations around the venue.
This describes the means of operations, quantity required, and recommended inspection procedures and scheduling.
If you have a Fire Curtain (many theatres) or Fire Doors (almost all buildings), then you need to fully understand the requirements for inspecting and testing these critical devices. The 2010 NFPA 80 Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives is the key to this part of your facility management.
This talks about door props, latches, crash bars, automatic closers, painting doors, and identifying Fire Doors.
Many of the NFPA publications have companion Handbooks that are available that break-down the codes and standards into manageable concepts with great graphics and explanations describing both proper and improper conditions.
Put these books in your budget. Each one usually has a 3 to 5 year update cycle, so setting aside the funding for each of these should be a simple task. If you need justification for the expenditures, then ask the powers that be how you are supposed to do your job without the actual books that define the Laws you must obey and the Standards to which you should adhere.
Warning:Reading these books may induce drowsiness. Do not drive or operate heavy machinery while reading them.
2011-08-18 - Mother Nature racked-up another one today in Hasselt, Belgium. A sever storm with high winds, hail up to 1/2" diameter, and LOTS of water made a shambles of the festival grounds and surrounding area. There are trees uprooted and broken like toothpicks (and these are BIG trees, too), and reports of at least four stages and many tents destroyed. Early pictures and videos show shredded tents, bent metal, and a crowd management nightmare. More pictures here.
There were an estimated 60,000 people attending the shows, so there were few places to get in out of the down-poor and wind. Many of those places were of questionable structural integrity being tents and portable buildings. This was the first day of a three-day festival, and the venue was turned into mud and flooded areas in less than ten minutes. Promoters attempted to bring-in mobile cranes to lift some of the damaged structures, but they had to postpone doing so because the heavy cranes were sinking into the soft ground.
One of those who watched a tent collapse was Laura Elegeert, 17, of Saint-Nicolas, Belgium. She said "It was utter confusion, mass panic. People were trying to get out of this tent that collapsed by using their pocket knives and cutting holes in the fabric."
At a news conference Friday, Hasselt officials and festival organizers described weather conditions at the event's opening day as exceptional and said weather forecasters had not predicted a storm of that intensity.
The Belgian weather service refused to give the exact speed of the wind, saying only that the storm was "violent."
Images of the stage wings toppled-over show huge flat sail-like surfaces and no apparent counter-ballasts to secure the framework.
Skin, the lead singer of Skunk Anansie, which was performing on the main stage when the storm hit, described the chaos on the band's Facebook page. He said "a burning hot sunny day turned into a mini-hurricane."
"(A) tower fell onto our truck, we had to run for our lives mid-set as hail hit the stage and the wind began to tear it to pieces," he wrote. "This was the scariest moment I have ever seen or felt in my 20 years of being an artist."
ABC News coverage: http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory?id=14334480
Arial photos of the festival grounds the following day. This really shows the scale of the event and the broad swath of downed trees, tents, and staging. http://album.hbvl.be/foto-album/p/3/ravage-na-drama-op-pukkelpop-luchtbeelden.aspx
This festival, and others in the region have incurred deaths in the past. In 2000, nine people were crushed to death and 43 injured during a Pearl Jam concert, and last year 20 were killed and 342 injured during the Love Parade Festival in Duisberg, Germany.
Summer's not over yet, so let's all be careful out there! Do you have a clear plan for a weather event? Where to go? Who to meet? Who to Call? When to 'call' the show?
2011-08-08 - Thousand Oaks, California. The owner of an LED video screen rental company was crushed and killed when the 1,500 pound screen fell from a fork lift while disassembling the unit after a show. The incident occurred around 1:00 PM at Earl Warren Showgrounds after the weekend rodeo event. Killed was 49 year old David Mann, owner of Jumbo Screen Company (www.jumboscreen.com).
This is an image of a similar 10' x 17' screen in use. CalOSHA is investigating the incident and details of why the screen came loose from the fork lift are not available. Other workers were able to lift the screen off of the victim before emergency crews could arrive, however, attempts to resuscitate the man were not successful.
Shown at right are workers surveying the damaged screen after emergency crews had transported Mr. Mann to a local hospital.
Notes for show workers: Do NOT stand under heavy objects being lifted. Be sufficiently far away from the object so that if they fall to the ground you will not be struck by it. for vertically oriented objects, be outside of the height of the object so if it falls over you will not be crushed by it. Secure your loads and double-check them.
The weather issue has been discussed extensively, however, the electrical power issue has not. The stage canopy collapsed at 8:49 PM, yet the timeline shows that the power wasn't cut to the stage for almost another half hour. There were hundreds of people climbing in, under, and on that aluminum structure and the power was still HOT! Truly, someone was asleep at the switch. Fortunately, no one was electrocuted. Crushed, yes, but electrocuted, no.
How come the power wasn't killed BEFORE the canopy blew down? At the time the storm was identified to contain rain, hail, lightning, and wind (most summer storms contain these four elements, so this isn't 'unexpected' or 'freakish'), the lighting and sound power should have been disconnected, and the winch power left on-line until the canopy was safely brought down to the stage level. This should have happened waaay earlier than the timeline shows.
NEWS FLASH: Water and Electricity and Aluminum structures are not a good mix. Add people to that and you have a recipe for further disaster.
Event Planning: When you are doing outdoor shows there should always be someone at the power source so that power can be shut-off in the event of an emergency. The power source and disconnect location should be located outside of the crash radius of the structure so that the workers there can operate the controls / disconnects and so the falling structure can't bury the one thing you must get to if an incident like this occurs.
Following the weather induced collapse of stages in Ottawa, Canada and Tulsa, Oklahoma, this event at the Indiana State Fair on Saturday, August 13, 2011 should be a wake-up call to promoters, Health and Safety administrators, and insurance companies that shoddy stage construction, ill-prepared emergency plans, and apparently non-existent weather monitoring by qualified individuals has to be curtailed. Lives are at stake and people are being injured and killed.
What has this author upset are the bone-headed attitudes that are portrayed by the participants and onlookers: They seem to accept that these stage collapses are 'no big deal' or that they are somehow 'unforeseeable' or 'unpredictable' events.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels described the canopy collapse at the State Fair as a "freakish accident." “I’m not clear how anyone could have foreseen a sudden, highly localized blast of wind,” Daniels said. REALLY!?NOT clear? An he is the Governor of the state. I guess an IQ test isn't a prerequisite for the job. Has he not heard of weather radar? Wind shear radar? Wind Speed Radar? Or maybe good old common sense: "We can see a storm coming right at us, and it is a huge storm cloud, and we have 25 tons of lighting and sound gear suspended 60 feet in the air with a 1/4 acre sail attached to it while being supported by a dozen skinny aluminum truss columns"? How does that work for you? I'm not even sorry for saying this is stupid. It is.
After the Tulsa, Oklahoma windstorm that tore a video display frame from the upstage area and sent it crashing to the ground, Ivins, the Flaming Lips' bassist, said the video-screen collapse was unpreventable. "It was a freak thing that happened," he said, adding that the Lips are working on repairing the rolling video screen for their next festival gig, in Somerset, Wisconsin, in about two weeks. "Maybe the stage could've been facing a different direction. We could have tied the screen down, but it would probably have taken the whole stage down. We try to take as many precautions as we can, all the time. It's just sometimes there's stuff out of your control. You just never know what's going to happen." Really!? Dang, dood, why do you even get out of bed in the morning (or maybe afternoon) if you don't know what is going to happen. Yeah, life is unpredictable, but basic physics is VERY predictable.
These kinds of incidents (not accidents) ARE Predictable and Preventable. It's called engineering, review, and planning. We know weather happens. We know it is powerful. We know if something blows over or collapses and lands on someone it will very likely injure or kill them. What is so hard to understand about this!? With attitudes like those promulgated above, it is no wonder that more people don't get killed at concerts.
Demand more safety planning and review. This stuff doesn't just 'happen' -- it happens when you DON'T plan for it.
Rigid Lifelines contributed this article as a guest blogger from their Fall Protection Blog. This fall protection equipment company provides fall restraint and fall arrest systems that provide fall safety solutions to a variety of different industries.
The performing arts industry, like many other industries, entails many different fall hazards. Performers, stagehands, lighting and sound technicians, set decorators, and other workers are frequently confronted with fall hazards. Productions may place performers on elevated platforms, and frequently support crews must reach-out over guard rails or lean over the edges of platforms to access work pieces. Each of these unique challenges demand that specific fall prevention solutions must be designed by a certified fall protection professional.
Fortunately, there are several ways to address such hazards. Passive fall protection, such as guard rails on a catwalk, may be sufficient for workers who require ceiling access, for example, to install or adjust lighting or sound equipment. Frequently, however, catwalks and structural I-beams are not fully protected, and workers are required to be tied-off when accessing such areas, which may be as high as 100 or more feet above the ground in large venues. In that case, the OSHA 4-foot general industry rule requires that they be protected, so some type of a fall protection arrangement is necessary.
As with many other industries, the fall protection solution depends on the job. If workers are going to traverse a wider lateral distance, like along a roof beam or loading gallery, then they are probably going to want a system where fall protection is provided along a linear path. This could be achieved with an active system that utilizes a safety harness and lanyard attached to a cable or some type of rail or I-beam system. In such a system, the cable, track, or beam is attached to the existing ceiling support structure. When attached to the fall protection system, workers can move along with a trolley, allowing them to work relatively unimpeded. In the event of a fall, the anchor system is designed to actively arrest their free-fall with the shock absorption lanyard and fall protection harness.
A safety cable that is stretched tight between two points will inherently add some extra ‘give’ to the system, so this must be accounted-for when determining how far the system will allow the worker to fall before coming to a full stop. This extra travel may also affect the rescue procedures need to recover a fallen worker.
A rigid track type system gives very little, so it can provide a more robust protection.
Examples of the Rigid Lifelines Fall Arresting Track profiles are shown at left. The single track is for short spans, the truss-type single track is for longer spans, and the dual track is designed to allow two workers to pass each-other without having to trade fall arrest lines. NOTE: This is very special load-rated track and it is NOT the same thing as curtain track used in the theatre. Do NOT attempt to use theatrical curtain track and scenery carriers for fall protection purposes.
In scenarios where the work area is limited and the worker does not to move about very much, a single point attachment can be used to allow a worker to hook-in with their restraint lanyard to a designated point in the ceiling (using a structural eye-bolt or some type of a load-rated beam clamp). In this case, the worker’s movement is limited, per OSHA, to 30° off of plumb, but they are still protected in the event of a freefall. The 30° limitation is to prevent the worker from swinging too far in a pendulum motion where they might swing back and smash into a wall or other protruding hazard.
Worker attaching to a designated fall protection attachment point (Courtesy of RUD)
Depending on the activities needed by the show, performers may require a customized fall prevention or fall arresting system. If the performer(s) are being suspended from a special performance flying system, then they may have a back-up fall arrest system to protect them should the primary fly system fail and place them in a free-fall condition during the performance. It is very common to see aerialists tied-off to self retracting life lines in Cirque de Soleil shows.
In other scenarios, the performers may have to work at the edge of a high platform. If they are moving about, then they may require a dynamic system with retractile reels that keep the slack in the line to a minimum. One popular Broadway show that has received recent media attention is Spiderman. In that show, the performer runs out on a cantilevered platform and looks over the edge into an abyss below (the orchestra pit some 30 feet down). You can see the fall protection lanyard trailing behind the performer, but the audience doesn’t seem to focus on it. This system is designed to be a fall restraint system (one that never allows the performer to actually fall). This particular system failed during one of the early shows because it had not been properly inspected and the fall restraint line was allowed to become abraded. When loaded by the running actor, it snapped and the performer fell into the orchestra pit and was injured.
Other fall restraint systems are simpler, they use a fall restraint lanyard that is a fixed length. It too, prevents the worker / performer from getting in the situation where an actual fall is possible. These are common on loading galleries ad when working leaning out over a balcony railing.
Where more maneuverability is needed and the worker must be able to place themselves in a situation where they could actually fall, then a shock absorbing lanyard or an automatically retracting self-locking fall arrest device must be used.
Automatically retracting self-locking fall arrest device
(Courtesy of Rigid Lifelines)
The typical theatrical fall protection focus, however, is on systems designed for workers who will be working in a potential fall hazard area — such as workers who must adjust lighting equipment at height or climb about on fixed or portable trusses. Common locations for Fall Protection requirements in the theatre are:
Balcony Railing Lighting Bars
Tormentor Boom Lighting Pipes
Scissors Lifts and Boom Arm Lifts
Weight Loading Gallery Rails
Open Beams and Trusses
Fixed Vertical Ladders (with and without cages)
Roll-up ladders (like are used to access concert trusses)
Upper level storage areas where there can be open sections of the railing
Follow Spotlight Platforms
Elevated Paint Bridges
Example of an overhead trolley for attachment
of fall protection equipment.
(Courtesy Rigid Lifelines)
Rigid Lifelines has provide numerous systems to nightclubs and theatrical venues in the Las Vegas area. Typically, a customer will mount an enclosed track system to the ceiling in a nightclub where lighting/sound equipment needs to be modified or arranged on a regular basis. In such cases, workers need to access the uppermost areas of often cavernous performance spaces. With a Rigid Lifelines trolley system, they can hook into the track and walk around on a catwalk or on beams, and in the event of a fall they’re protected by the overhead securement system. As noted previously, when a cable type system is employed, a worker might fall a significant distance and then find themselves suspended too far below the catwalk / beam to pull themselves back up to safety. With Rigid track, however, a worker will only fall a few inches, making it easier to recover the worker from the suspension phase.
Theatrical performances such as “Cirque de Soleil,” in which the performers or support crew must access the ceiling structure, have used Rigid Lifelines track systems to protect workers from a freefall to the lower level. So while the performing arts industry entails unique fall hazards — sometimes almost intentionally because of the nature of a specific performance — the fall protection solutions are nonetheless similar to those seen in general industry.
Also note that workers / performers that are using fall protection devices must be trained about donning and using the equipment, checking it for damage, and keep records of use, abuse, and inspections. Additionally, the workers using the equipment and those supervising them must have a rescue plan worked-out in advance so that a person that has fallen is not left hanging and suffer suspension trauma. Suspension Trauma occurs when the blood circulation to the extremities is reduced or cut-off due to the tightness of the fall protection harness that is imposed when the worker is hanging by the attachment point(s).
More information and resources about fall protection systems can be found at: