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                                                                                                                                                  ply and 2X4s suspended from the top
                                                                                                                                                  plate and held together with nails. “Oh,”
                                                                                                                                                  says Paget, “and it flies in and out during
                                                                                                                                                  the show too. And it’s rigged in a totally
                                                                                                                                                  improper and unsafe manner.”
                                                                                                                                                      Upon quick examination, rigging
                                                                                                                                                  equipment is relatively simple machinery—
                                                                                                                                                  especially if it is manual. Why do theatres not
                                                                                                                                                  pay as much attention to the safe operation of
                                                                                                                                                  it? By nature, we’re not necessarily a “rule-
                                                                                                                                                  following” crew and that’s why we’re in
                                                                                                                                                  theatre. As Craig Austin, president, Stage
                                                                                                                                                  Services Company, a division of Stagecraft,
                                                                                                                                                  points out that many a drama teacher would
                                                                                                                                                  prefer the safety or maintenance people stay
                                                                                                                                                  away. Having them present seems to open a
                                                                                                                                                  Pandora’s Box of other safety issues.
                                                                                                                                                      “The key thing I see time and time again,
                                                                                                                                                  is maintenance departments, for whatever
                                                                                                                                                  reasons, don’t pay attention, have a lack of
                                                                                                                                                  understanding and/or lack the familiarity they
                                                                                                                                                  need to deal with the rigging equipment,”
                                                                                                                                                  explains Austin. “People also tend to bury
                                                                                                                                                  stage rigging accidents rather that report them
                                                                                                                                                  so the damaged equipment is left in service.”

                                                                                                                                                      Paget feels the major factors
                                                                                                                                                  contributing to rigging accidents tend to be
                                                                                                                                                  either: a.) untrained or poorly trained
                                                                                                                                                  rigging crews trying to do a mentally and
                                                                                                                                                  physically demanding task; b.) poor
                                                                                                                                                  communications among the rigging crew,
                                                                                                                                                  usually caused by distractions (Boom boxes
                                                                                                                                                  or sound checks are the worst.), or simple
                                                                                                                                                  lack of attention; c.) improperly maintained
                                                                                                                                                  (or poorly installed/manufactured) stage
                                                MAKING SAFETY A PRIORITY FOR YOUR                                                                 rigging equipment; or a combination of the
                                                                                                                                                  factors noted above.
                                                THEATRICAL RIGGING                                                                                ADOPTING A SAFETY PHILOSOPHY
                                                                                                                                                  All interviewed for this story unanimously
                                                Getting serious about safety can decrease dangerous                                               agreed that accidents are preventable with
                                                equipment malfunctions and prevent serious or deadly                                              proper selection and installation of equipment
                                                accidents in your facility                                                                        and signage, training and allowing only
                                                                                                                                                  authorized users to operate equipment.
                                                B    Y       B   R   E   N   T   M    C   W    I   L   L   I   A   M   S
                                                                                                                                                      “There is no magic to stage rigging safety.
                                                                                                                                                  Well-trained crews that are properly

                                                                                                                                                  supervised, including a directive to not
                                                                 ROM A FALLING CRESCENT WRENCH LEFT ON A SHEET METAL RACEWAY TO                   introduce other noises or activities during
                                                             substituting rock climbing equipment for staging flying effects, theatres have not   loading/unloading activities, tend to have few
                                                             always put safety as a top priority when creating an eye-popping visual treat for
                                                             an audience. Regardless of whether your crew is pushing and pulling by hand or       This poorly installed concrete anchor
                                                your rigging system is computer-controlled, training, inspections, proper documentation and       (technically a lag shield), turned screw eye
                                                                                                                                                  and an S-hook were installed above the
                                                ongoing maintenance needs to be adopted as part of your normal operations.                        audience seating area supporting a loaded
                                                   Ted Paget, regional sales manager, Vortek Rigging Division - Daktronics, Inc., recounts        lighting batten. None of these items should
                                                the number of times he’s walked onto a stage to see a large scenery rear wall made from skin-     be used for overhead support

                                                20       DRAMABIZ    January 2009                                                                              
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or no accidents,” explains Paget. “At the same      Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)               validated with a fairly comprehensive
time, planned and ongoing inspection and            sets the standards which among them                   installation checklist with items such as load
maintenance of stage rigging equipment is           requires that your rigging be inspected               test, nut and bolt torque stripping, etc.
critical to the prevention of rigging accidents.”   annually, however safety conscious theatres               “The equipment inspection frequency
    Making safety a priority for any rigging        may need to adopt more stringent guidelines           really depends on the duty cycle of the
operation needs to be a top priority for            based on the usage at their facility.                 equipment,” says Black. “In general, a typical
drama teachers on up to theatre owners.                 Mark Black of InterAmerica Stage, Inc.,           fly tower with counterweight rigging, maybe a
Austin recounts a statement made by the             encourages starting with the identification of        fire curtain and a few electrical sets, should be
director of the Washington State Risk               everything that needs to be inspected by              done at a minimum once a year. Other venues
Management Pool stating that ‘10 years of           creating an inventory of stage equipment.             that have a higher turnaround with unique
prevention is worth one serious injury              “Make sure you have all available                     productions and duty cycles should be
claim.’ Austin also adds, “If you add a             documentation        for    the     equipment;        inspected prior to every major show.”
fatality to that it is even harder to put a         manufacturers data sheets, shop drawings,                 Tom Young, vice president, marketing at
preceding number on that, so it just makes          operation manuals and any previous                    J. R. Clancy states that ideally you should
good business sense to adopt safety policies        inspection records,” says Black. “Then                use an outside firm that specializes in
and change your behaviors. The                      precede systematically one system at a time,          theatrical rigging inspections to do the
implementation of these policies need to be         run each through its paces while visually             annual inspection in your theatre. “If you
based in sound practices and can be done            inspecting each major component and                   have motorized equipment, OSHA requires a
internally at almost no cost.”                      observe for any misalignment. If it was               yearly inspection by a competent person,”
                                                    installed correctly in the first place and load       notes Young.
INSPECTIONS                                         tested, this may be all that is required.”                Young      also     recommends         some
For peace of mind, rigging inspections are              Black goes onto explain that most                 alternatives if you are unable to bring in a
best done by third-party professionals with         inspections are more in depth especially if           professional. “You might want to get a
the proper credentials. The Occupational            the original installation was not 100%                flyman from another theatre to go through

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                                                                       Design, Manufacture and Installation of Theatrical Equipment Worldwide
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your system with you so that you have              the mechanism for becoming certified,                and theatre managers,” explains Neslage.
another set of eyes,” advises Young. “There        namely, the exam. Training is available              “Not every facility in North America is able
are also checklists in reference books like        through individuals and organizations that           to afford the fully motorized rigging systems
Jay O. Glerum’s ‘Stage Rigging Handbook’           are listed on the ETCP website. The ESTA             that have become available over the past few
that will help you make an inspection.”            Foundation also provides training through a          years. A combination of rigging system
    Paget also recommends the “Stage               series of regional workshops.”                       types will enable an educational facility to
Rigging Handbook” along with the                       At this point, OSHA oversees the                 prepare future theatre technicians.”
manufacturer’s resources and documentation         operational standards, and will get involved in          Paget advocates that technicians become
to make the inspection equipment specific.         the case of accidents, but the operational           members of entertainment trade organizations
“With the adoption of the E1.4 ESTA/ANSI           oversight of rigging is still largely voluntary      such as ESTA and USITT, explaining, “This
Manual Rigging Standard and the                    which is why ETCP certification is so                will allow her/him to network with peers and
development of other rigging standards for         important. Certified individuals are granted         vendors who may have more current
fire curtains and motorized rigging                recognition for demonstrating certain skills,        information about training practices/
equipment, we are beginning to see more            abilities and knowledge. Theatres, in turn,          opportunities and recommended changes to
commonality at least among the parts of            who hire certified professionals can be              the way the rigging equipment (and the
rigging systems that need to be inspected          confident that they understand the mechanics         lighting/scenery/props attached to it)
and the frequency of such inspections,”            and rigging principles to install, inspect, train    should be used.”
explains Paget.                                    and operate rigging equipment. This                      Tom Young of J. R. Clancy, recommends
    Austin also offers some practical advice       certification along with working knowledge           that your training include a walkthrough of
when it comes to inspections, “Be sure to          of the manufacturer’s equipment should be at         the entire backstage area, so that everyone
make sure that everything is in good working       the top of your requirements list.                   knows where things are, how they are
order.” In their training courses, they ask            Sapsis points out, “Being an ETCP Theatre        operated, and trouble items to look for. He
attendees how they know their equipment is in      Rigger means you are identified as having a          also notes that operators need to be trained
good working order to which attendees can          high level of knowledge and experience in the        specifically for the equipment they are
quickly respond that the equipment is brand        field and have demonstrated your skill level by      using and authorized to use the equipment.
new, inspected and has been maintained.            passing the Certification exam. The benefits to      “I may be a well-trained rigging operator,
“Make sure your inspector has placed a             theatres and other venues that hire ETCP             but I should not use your system without
sticker at eye level to note the inspection date   Certified riggers is that the theatres get an        your authorization,” says Young. “This
and by whom. Insurance underwriters, fire          individual who has an identifiable skill level.”     seems like common sense, but we see
marshals and risk management people all                                                                 untrained people using equipment they do
check for that sticker.”                           TRAINING                                             not have permission to use. This is a real
    “And remember,” says Austin, “rigging          An ongoing training program can be one of            safety problem.”
systems are designed to last 25 – 30 years.        your best defenses against accidents. Ted                Young       also    recommends         the
So even if the inspection shows everything in      Paget of Vortek suggest that a good training         documentation of authorized users stating,
good working order as you near that 15 year        program must start from the principal that           “When people are trained to use
mark, you may want to start planning ahead         ‘This stuff can hurt you’ and communicate            equipment there should be a log showing
and earmark dollars to pay for an equipment        an understanding that common sense and               who has been trained and what they are
changeover.”                                       attention to the activity are the main               authorized to do. You may want to require
                                                   safeguards for both crew and civilian safety.        a number of hours of experience before a
THE RIGHT CREDENTIALS                                  Reid Neslage of H & H Specialties, Inc.,         person is allowed to use the rigging system
Fortunately for theatre professionals we have      feels that common sense and thorough                 without supervision.”
associations like the Entertainment Services       training in the safe operation of equipment              Lastly, Young advocates that in addition
and Technology Association (ESTA), who             and maintenance applies no matter whether            to training new staff members, there should
along with subject matter experts created the      the equipment is a manually operated                 be a yearly refresher course for everyone.
Entertainment Technician Certification             counterweight set or a motorized set. In             “This is a good time to review any problems
Programs (ETCP) to focus on the health and         addition, Neslage says educational facilities        in the previous year, new ideas, and airing of
safety of crews, performers and audiences.         should look toward the outfitting of rigging         any concerns,” explains Young.
Currently, they offer three certifications:        in a facility as a teaching tool as well as a            Austin also offers a cautionary word of
Rigger – Arena; Rigger – Theatre and               way to raise and lower scenery or other             advice to those working in schools where
Entertainment Electrician.                         suspended elements.                                 student turnover may affect the safe operations
    Bill Sapsis, president Sapsis Rigging,             “If a student is only exposed to manual         of rigging equipment. “First,” recommends
Inc., co-chair Rigging Working Group ESTA          counterweight rigging, or on the other hand         Austin, “have a professional ETCP certified
Technical Standards Program and ETCP               only motorized rigging there is an                  rigger come in and train the teacher or
council member, explains the role of ETCP          opportunity lost in the training of future          person(s) in charge. A competent person
in the following way, “The ETCP provides           stagehands, technicians, technical directors        through the eyes of OSHA can be a teacher
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                                                                                                                                                               Operator error caused this
                                                                                                                                                               arbor to crash into and through
                                                                                                                                                               the bottom stop, shearing off
                                                                                                                                                               seven bolts

                                                                                                                                                               BELOW: This rope is in bad
                                                                                                                                                               shape as visible by the “high-
                                                                                                                                                               strand” condition often caused
                                                                                                                                                               by a shock load

                                                                                                                                                            may be amiss. “It is best to honor
                                                                                                                                                            your instincts beforehand. You can

                                                                                                                                                            hear and feel when something is
                                                                                                                                                            going wrong. That may be the one
                                                                                                                                                            and only warning you may get.”

                                                                                                                                                            EXPERT ADVICE
                                                                                                                                                                    Safe rigging starts with
                                                                                                                                                                    the manufacturer and
                                                                                                                                                                    authorized dealers. They
                                                                                                                                                                    will guide you not only on
                                                                                                                                                                    the installation, but the
                                                 who in turn will train students to be         of the accident. A good                                              safety practices, training,
                                                 authorized users.”                            starting point may be ascer-                                         signage and maintenance of
                                                     “Second,” Austin continues, “treat this   taining whether the person                                           your equipment.
                                                 training like any other learning in the       operating the equipment was                                              When seeking expert
                                                 classroom complete with a written syllabus,   authorized to do so and                                              advice, look to suppliers
                                                 testing and demonstration of competency to    whether the appropriate docu-                                        with membership in the
                                                 safely operate the equipment. This greatly    mentation and signage were                                           entertainment trade assoc-
                                                 reduces the incidents of accidents.”          present.                                                             iations like ESTA and
                                                     “Lastly,” Austin concludes, “meet the        Using a third party to assess                                     USITT as well as potential
                                                 minimum Fed OSHA requirements of              the situation can also be                                            contractors’ credentials,
                                                 posting signage. This is cheap insurance      helpful in determining what                                          liability insurance coverage,
                                                 and a one time thing to be in compliance      happened after an accident suggests Paget.      a minimum of 10 year in the business and
                                                 and reinforce the training.” Austin           Start with the following factors:               financial standing.
                                                 recommends posting two signs; “Warning:                                                           Tyler Smith of InterStage America,
                                                                                                a) Who are your crews and are they
                                                 Authorized Users Only” placed by the                                                          Inc., notes that there are many levels of
                                                                                                   properly prepared to do this work?
                                                 rigging equipment and “How to Operate”                                                        equipment. In this country, there are only a
                                                 signage that should be available through       b) What are the rules when rigging is          handful of qualified stage machinery contrac-
                                                 the manufacturer of your equipment or             happening both during set-up/strike         tors and installers who are qualified to provide
                                                 available for download from manufacturer’s                                                    structural and large mechanical systems.
                                                                                                   and during technical rehearsals and the
                                                 Web sites.                                                                                        “There are, however, many qualified
                                                                                                   run of the show?
                                                                                                                                               stage rigging companies that can provide
                                                 WHEN ACCIDENTS HAPPEN                          c) What is the quality of the rigging           basic track, drapery and fly systems,” says
                                                 Nothing can rattle your crew more than an         equipment installation (and scenery         Smith. “Be sure that any contractor has the
                                                 accident or near miss. Be sure you follow         attachment hardware/systems) in your        proper insurance, ETCP certification and
                                                 whatever accident reporting procedures                                                        in more stringent cases, is a certified
                                                                                                   theatre and how regularly has the rigging
                                                 already in place and after the chaos has
                                                                                                   been inspected and maintained?              General       Contractor          and      carries
                                                 settled, begin an investigation to better
                                                                                                                                               professional liability insurances.”
                                                 understand what happened so that you can
                                                 prevent it in the future.                        Austin also advises understanding any            Paget states that while it may be desirable
                                                      Young recommends eliminating the         equipment malfunctions by looking for           that a rigging contractor have at least a
                                                 blame game and focusing on the root cause     warning signs or evidence that something        supervisor with ETCP certification for
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 theatrical (as opposed to arena) rigging may     The actual person in the field can make a           And Paget thinks all parties are responsible
 be helpful, at the end of the day it is most     world of difference to the installation.”       for a safe environment, stating. “I would insist
 important to ask your peers whom they have           Nelsage concurs and adds, “The              on common sense training of all technical
 worked with (particularly on more recent         experience level of the rigging supervisor      supervisors and crews doing stage rigging and
 projects) and how satisfactory was the result.   is very important as the fit and finish of      stage construction with the strongest emphasis
     “It is especially useful to learn how        the completed project is dependent on           on full crew attention and communication
 rigging contractors (and the manufacturers       their skill and expertise.” He also advises     related to the rigging tasks.”
 who provide their equipment) responded to        asking for at least five to 10 references for
 problems with recent previous installations,”    previous installations of similar scope and         For more resources on safe rigging
 explains Paget. “Try also to learn which         size including facility name, contact name,     practices, visit the DramaBiz Magazine Web
 installers/supervisors to ask for from the       contact phone number, scope of project          site at and click on
 firm(s) you’re considering for the project.      and date of completion.                         “Yours for the Asking”