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September 13, 2010
That's Entertainment? Addressing Common Hazards in the Entertainment Industry

There was no audience in the MGM Grand's Hollywood Theater in Las Vegas on May 20, 2009; Tom Jones had recently finished his run. Stagehands were tearing down his set, some of them balancing precariously on a catwalk as they clipped their safety harnesses onto a horizontal lifeline and then crossed a 33-inch gap above a false ceiling on a narrow rigging plank with no guardrails. One of the stagehands, 20-year-old Vincente Rodriguez, missed his footing and fell to his death, revealing too late that he was wearing his safety harness incorrectly.

The people who make the magic happen in the entertainment industry are regularly subjected to a variety of hazardous conditions. Major hazards involved in staging many productions include:

Working at heights. The hazard that killed Rodriguez is common in entertainment; riggers spend a lot of time above the stage. Besides the fall danger, workers may be exposed to the hazards of falling objects or collapsing structures. To protect workers:

  • Use toeboards along open edges and secure tools that will be used aloft.

  • Provide safe access to elevated work spaces.

  • Use guardrails along walkways, catwalks, and platforms.

  • If workers will use personal fall protection harnesses, make sure that adequate tie-off points are available, easily accessible, and compatible with the equipment workers are wearing.

  • Make sure all anchorage points (including those for flying scenery) are adequate for anticipated loads.

  • Train workers in the proper use and maintenance of fall protection equipment and conduct frequent compliance audits.

  • Develop rescue procedures so that workers who fall do not suffer suspension trauma.

  • Ensure that structures are constructed to be safe for anticipated loads and that walking surfaces (like elevated stage areas) are not overloaded.

Practice Tip

The Australian Entertainment Industry Association and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance have developed a 28-page document, Safety Guidelines for the Entertainment Industry, that addresses these and other hazards. You can download it at _for_entertainment_industry_5_0.pdf.

Working on stage. In August 2009, Florida's Walt Disney World Studios lost two cast members who were part of stage shows. Mark Priest, 47, was performing a mock sword fight during a performance of Captain Jack's Pirate Tutorial when he slipped on a wet spot on the stage and slammed into a wall, slicing open his scalp and breaking vertebrae in his neck. He died of complications from his injuries. Just 11 days later, 30-year-old Anislav Varbanov was practicing a tumbling roll during rehearsals for the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular when he landed awkwardly, fatally breaking his neck.

Hazards on the stage will depend on the production. In general, they may be caused by the interaction of the cast with the set (as when actors are struck by flying scenery or trip over props), interactions between cast members and others present (for example, actors doing stunts, fights, and aerial or acrobatic work), or aspects of the performance itself (such as pyrotechnics or special effects).

To control these hazards:

  • Identify and address walking/ working surface hazards such as holes, pits, and openings; inappropriate or inadequately supported performance surfaces; and tripping hazards.

  • Identify situations in which the interactions of cast, crew, and audience members could create a hazard. For example, if an actor misses his mark, could he be in danger from flying scenery? Could choreographed dance, fight, or stunt scenes place anyone at risk? Consider what precautions could make the situation safer.

  • Identify staging hazards, such as changing light levels (from onstage to backstage) and special effects (fog and pyrotechnics), and address these individually.

Electrical hazards. Electrical equipment in a stage environment often creates hazards similar to those found on construction sites and in outdoor environments—a lot of temporary electrical installations that are subject to wet or inclement conditions and possibly heavy traffic. Basic electrical safety should consider the following:

  • Flexible cords and cables. They should be protected from damage, inspected frequently, and taken out of service if they become damaged.

  • Ground fault protection. Installations should be protected against current leakage by ground fault interruptors.

  • Capacity. Overloading electrical cords is a fire and electrocution hazard. Make sure cords and cables are sized appropriately for the loads they supply.

  • Suspension. Never use extension cords as support cables for equipment; support for hanging equipment must be provided separately from the power supply.

  • Tripping hazards. Make sure workers are not in danger of tripping over electrical cords and cables.
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