This can be dangerous business. That does not mean you will get hurt, but it means you COULD. Always work safely. Taking shortcuts is not expedient, but dangerous.

Consider the typical stage:
The layout constantly changes. On-stage is brilliantly lit but it is poorly lit backstage. In the dark are many hard, pointy objects; there are lighting booms, scenery, cables to trip on, people in black are rushing about in the dark. The orchestra pit might be floor level or 30 feet deep, w/ no railing. Overhead and offstage there are literally tons of equipment that may spring into motion without notice. We operate powerful mechanized equipment within inches of performers and crew. In normal industry, such movements require flashing lights and sirens, but not in theatre.

Consider the work spaces:
The arrangement of spaces changes constantly. Every show is different so every day the tasks change. Catwalks are 30 to 100 some feet in the air, often with inadequate railings, where we toss 50 lb. weights or lean out over empty space to reach equipment. Falling sandbags and scenery are stock elements of B movies and Phantom of the Opera; we confront them daily. Our only defense is safe working habits and common sense.

There are many ways to do most jobs on stage, but you should learn how the Local prefers it done; not because it is the "best" way, but because it is the expected way HERE. Surprises cause injuries.

The trick is using safe working practices at all times, and avoiding unsafe situations. Don't be complacent. If you see an unsafe situation or practice, or are uncomfortable with a task, inform the Job Steward immediately. And if someone is injured, inform the Job Steward immediately about that, too.

Wear durable work clothes and sturdy boots or shoes for protection. Crushed hands and fingers are the most common stage injury; gloves and care will help. Stagehands often wear black backstage, but in some situations hi-viz clothing may be better.

Make use of any protective gear -PPEs or Personal Protection Equipment- that may be required. PPE generally required include rated hard hats when people are working overhead, hard-toed boots, sturdy gloves, eye protection, and earplugs during loud noise is present. The use of PPE are not just good practice, it is legally required by law. Failure to follow safety requirements can result in fines for BOTH employer and employees, in addition to injuries or worse.

Occasionally we build or repair scenery, and may be exposed to toxic paints, solvents, or chemicals, or welding fumes. In such cases, you need to follow proper procedures, and employ proper ventilation, respirators and chemically resistance gloves or clothing.

Work smart. When lifting, use your legs, not your back. Work together on heavy lifts. If something is too heavy, get help! On ramps, push from the back and sides of large crates so as not to be run over if you trip.

Try to maintain "situational awareness". That means pay attention to what is going on around you so you know when to duck! Stay off cell phones, texting devices, and music players unless on an official break. Not only are you being paid for your full attention on the call, but when using such devices you are splitting your attention and CANNOT be fully aware of potential dangers around you. You also become a danger to those working with you. Far too often, the one who pays for a mistake is not the person at fault. Don't hurt someone else because YOU were distracted by a personal electronic device.

Avoid interfering or distracting other workers. If a crew is raising a set piece or working on a lineset, stay out of the way. If a rigging rope is hanging from overhead, don't touch! You are responsible for your own safety but also those around you.

Be careful and aware around forklifts, trucks, and other powered work vehicles. Stay out from under a load or walk directly in front or behind a moving fork. Be careful around blind corners and don't try to hitch a ride. Technically the operator is responsible for the safe operation of such equipment, but everyone involved must also help. A load-in or load-out can be hectic, and the consequences can be deadly.

When climbing, you must use proper fall arrest equipment any time you are at risk of a free fall of over six feet. Wearing fall arrest is not just smart, it's the law. Fixed ladders whose tops are over 24 ft. above the lower level surface and rope ladders require the use of fall arrest systems. It must be a properly designed and installed SYSTEM, not just random components cobbled together. A fall arrest "system" includes a rescue plan so that a victim can quickly rescued before hanging trauma can cause further injury or death.

You usually can't wear fall arrest on a portable step-ladder, but DON'T stand on the top two steps (the ones with the safety stickers). Remove any loose items from your pockets when working at heights. Carry ONLY those tools you must have to work and tether them to you somehow, or you risk dropping them on people below you. If you do drop something, yell "Heads" or "Heads UP" as a warning! 

If you need to work overhead in an aerial lift, you must first be trained on it's safe operation. "Mobile Elevating Work Platforms" or MEWPs a.k.a."Genie" lifts and scissors lifts must only be used on a level surface and must never be raised without the outriggers in place. Riders of boom lifts ("condor" lifts) are required to wear fall arrest gear secured to the basket.

Avoid working while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, including prescribed drugs which could cause drowsiness, lightheadedness, or disorientation. If you DO work under the influence, you WILL be sent home.

If you have problems with any tool or machine, bring it to the attention of the show or venue staff so it may be repaired. Don't just ignore it and don't try to fix it yourself unless directed to do so. And don't mess with gear that is not your responsibility. If there is a rope that is hanging from overhead or tied off and in your way, don't touch it. Instead get assistance from the department responsible. Same goes for scenery, lighting equipment, etc.

IF YOU DON'T KNOW - ASK! If you feel uncomfortable with any task, in terms of experience or safety or any other reason, the Local WILL back you! Don't let the roadies pressure you into doing something unsafe. If you have a concern, alk to the job steward; he/she is there to look out for you. There is no such thing as a dumb question, only dumb mistakes and injuries.

Back to Table of Contents

Copyright © 2002, 2010, 2021 Mick Alderson