Rules for the catwalk/booth

jglodeklights

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Apr 3, 2011
Location
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
I also work with students, both high school and college and professional. As much credit as people can be given, you also need to give them no benefit of the doubt. I got to hear (I was on the other side of a set wall) a line set run this week. It was a professional set construction/installation/production company that was installing scenery. People, in a rush, will forget all rules of safety and professionalism.
 

venuetech

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AK,
my followspot positions are on the catwalks
operators should take water with them and leave the stair lights on so if something comes up they can find the stairs or help can get to them easily.
we had an operator overheat and faint some time ago, and the stair light switch is not conveniently located.
 

MNicolai

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Sarasota, FL
I also work with students, both high school and college and professional. As much credit as people can be given, you also need to give them no benefit of the doubt. I got to hear (I was on the other side of a set wall) a line set run this week. It was a professional set construction/installation/production company that was installing scenery. People, in a rush, will forget all rules of safety and professionalism.
But isn't it safe to say that someone giving them a list of rules or pointing to a poster with a list of rules on hanging on the wall wouldn't have prevented that?

In my experience, the safest environment when lots of things are moving on stage is that I know what's happening on the grid, what's happening on the weight rail, what's happening on the floor, and what's happening in any scissor lifts. Each person watching out for the safety of their actions and the actions of the people around them goes much further than any poster on the wall.

My students are smart, and they also know that I make mistakes just like they do, and they're prepared to point anything unsafe out to me just like they would expect me to do for them.

My other big problem with lists of safety rules is that not only do people not pay attention to them, but people get the impression that things that aren't on the list are permissible. That's how "No Food or Drink" gets added to the list -- a common sense item that one person thought was alright and now it's a defacto policy and detracts from the policies people actually need to pay attention to, such as making certain your wrench is tethered to you.

The only place I really like to have a list of policies is in our venue spec packet, and that's intended less to control the conduct of people and more to give them a clear, certain idea of functionally what can or can not be accommodated in our space.

Time and time again, the more responsible student groups I work with are the ones where each person has a sense of responsibility and sense of owning every action of theirs. That versus the groups where the adult leaders dictate exactly what students can or can not do -- those groups are always awful to work with because each person is used to having someone else think for them about what's acceptable behavior and they assume no responsibility for their actions -- they have no sense of ownership for their actions because they've not been given the freedom to think for themselves.

People who are treated like they're dumb will act dumb. People who are treated like they're smart will act smart. The longer people act dumb, the dumber they will be. The longer people act smart, the wiser they will become.

Wisdom comes from screwing up. It comes from making mistakes, seeing others make mistakes, and hearing about others who made mistakes. To become a "Pro", there's no substitute for working around the same obstacles over and over again. Being a "Pro" means you've sat in front of the same problem enough times that you know exactly what worked for you the times you've walked into that problem before and even more importantly it's knowing what didn't work for you.

I'm not saying everyone should go set their theatres on fire and that's how they'll become professional stagehands -- what I'm saying is that when people have the freedom to feel smart and intelligent, they acquire wisdom (albeit while also screwing up now and then), and then they feel a sense of ownership for and responsibility for their actions.

A crew that's treated like they're stupid will act stupid, and stupid is why rule lists seem like a really good idea at the time -- each time a stupid mistake is made, a rule is made telling people not to do that stupid thing. A foggy list of obscure rules later and the two points that were really important at the top of the list got lost in the other thirty rules about nonsense.

Smart people don't ensure there will never be a workplace injury, but if someone gets hurt when a bunch of smart people are working on a job, it'll be because of an honest mistake instead of stupid one. It'll be "I didn't notice that lens was broken when I picked it up and it sliced into my hand" instead of "I didn't know when the coach sent me 40' in the air in a scissor lift on the football field during a really windy day was a bad idea."

Student #1 who sliced their hand on a broken lens was a student who made an honest mistake I did have to send to the hospital for stitches.

Student #2 was this guy who made a stupid mistake and he's dead.

Honest mistakes will happen every day and there's no list of rules that will prevent them, from someone reading the wrong circuit number off of the light plot and plugging a fixture into the wrong circuit to someone dropping something heavy on their foot. Stupid mistakes happen, and again no list of rules will prevent them, but they more typically range from someone using a nail gun to secure an electrical cord to a flat to someone not putting on their fall arrest gear when they're climbing truss.

If the odds of probability say that people will make mistakes while they are at work in my theatre, any day of the week I'd prefer they be honest mistakes by someone smart rather than reckless, stupid mistakes made by someone who thought they could get away with something.

You give people the power to think for themselves and own their actions and they'll impress you. If you're always thinking for everyone around you, the wheels will fall off of the wagon pretty quickly as soon as you step out of the room for a few minutes.
 
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venuetech

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AK,
student #2 ether never read the rules (operators manual for the lift)
or he chose to ignore them. certainly his supervisor chose to ignore the rules.

perhaps he felt that if the boss said "get the lift up and start filming" he was obligated to do that, without consideration of his safety
 

MNicolai

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student #2 ether never read the rules (operators manual for the lift)
or he chose to ignore them. certainly his supervisor chose to ignore the rules.

perhaps he felt that if the boss said "get the lift up and start filming" he was obligated to do that, without consideration of his safety
From his tweets, it could be inferred that he knew before he got there that day that his job was going to be to get up in that lift with that camera and he recognized in advance it was a bad idea. As to why he allowed himself to go up there -- it's debatable; maybe he went up there because he thought there would be consequences if he didn't, and maybe he did not feel the freedom to choose not to go up because he had not been used to making his decisions and owning them versus having decisions made for him and taking them as a not-to-be-debated-given.

Anyone remember the first time they went up in a vertical mast lift and the outriggers were pulled and they recognized it wasn't safe but everyone else acted normal so they kept going anyway for fear of not being hired again?

A lot of us have done it and every several months it feels like another 16-year-old comes on CB asking what to do in that situation, and the number one thing they're told is that no, it's not safe, and they should be comfortable in telling they're bosses that they're not going to let themselves be directed to go up in a lift without the proper safety precautions.

The number one response from the 16-year-old after being told that is "Thanks for the advice, but I'm really afraid I'm not going to be rehired so I probably just won't say anything."

The world isn't carefully defined by rules, and the scariest experience for a lot of people is growing up in an atmosphere of rules that they never have to think about and then having to adapt to think for themselves in a lawless work environment that's not always gamed in their favor.
 

chausman

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The only place I really like to have a list of policies is in our venue spec packet, and that's intended less to control the conduct of people and more to give them a clear, certain idea of functionally what can or can not be accommodated in our space.
But, does EVERYONE who comes into your space read through the venue spec packet? I know most people in a group that I'm involved with doesn't even know that there is one, much less actually read the thing. The biggest reason most people know about what they can or cannot do is because someone else did something stupid like hanging from fire sprinkler pipe and now know to tell younger kids what happened and not to do that.
 

DuckJordan

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Oct 7, 2009
Location
Doesnt matter
It depends in academia where quite a few of us spend our time its taught in classes while outside people do read the spec sheets or at least the ones in charge do.

Sent from my ADR6300 using Tapatalk
 

ruinexplorer

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MNicolai, while I agree that we need to teach the technicians to be able to think on their own and assert good judgement, unfortunately that will not stand up in a court of law. True, many rules are reactive due to an accident. That is not to say that the judgement of the ruling is without flaw. You as (I am assuming position) the supervisor are responsible to properly train the individuals in your space so as to make sure that they can properly interpret the rules. Certainly it is sad that we must put warnings that Hot Coffee contains a hot liquid, but that is solely due to the legal system. However, in your theater, you will have different dangers than other theaters and must address each one individually. The code of conduct should be put in the facility rules (employee manual) but do not need to be posted at the catwalks.

So, I guess, the problem is that common sense is becoming less common. Another thing to consider is that (as you stated), rules mean nothing without enforcement. Both of these points come down to management. I think that you will end up with "stupid" employees when the supervisor is a micro-manager and "smart" employees when the supervisor is a macro-manager. Essentially, lay out the rules and observe overall behavior and add guidance, discipline when necessary. If the supervisor chooses to micro-manage, not allowing the employees to use the talents that they were hired for, then the crew will fail overall. This is essentially what the AHJ does for your facility. The regulations are out there for how you should be running your facility safely, but when they come to do an inspection, they are looking to see if you are in compliance. If your facility tends to abide by the law, you will probably have a better relationship with the AHJ and they may not inspect your facility all the time.

It is difficult to teach young workers to stand up for themselves. In an educational facility, the worst that can happen is a bad grade, which can be contested. In the working world, where entry level technicians are a dime a dozen, they will often take unnecessary risks to prove their "worth". Unfortunately, that is the fault of the employer and "right-to-work" systems along with the "show must go on" mentality of the producers. There will always be someone else to willingly put themselves at risk or work for less, just to get in the biz. So, if I'm the technical supervisor for a road house where the employer may be an outside company, I have to be strict with my rules since I don't know how the other employer trains their technicians (most likely they only hired a staging company and were not responsible for training anyhow). If I happen to be the supervisor for a theater where I have regular employees (or students), then my rules are in the handbook and I expect that the employees know those rules, common sense or not, and they also know the ramifications of not abiding by them (specifically listed or not). At that point, general rules like "professional and safe behavior" supercede the need for listing out all individual examples. This is why employers have a procedure for discipline including verbal and then written warnings to help educate the employee of behavior prior to termination.
 

jglodeklights

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Apr 3, 2011
Location
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
I don't post the rules all over the walls. I just drill them into students and people I work with. Were the person who caused the line set to run through their carelessness to be with the actual production company, they would more than likely not work again. The summer stock I am working for is having a general orientation on Tuesday, followed by a safety and rules meeting that all people working in the shop/on the stage technical elements are required to attend, even those of us who are professionals. This is a hemp house, one that is much more easily operated than the theater I am used to, but I still need to be there just to be reminded. It is proper practicing and restudying of safe work methods that keeps it fresh in our minds. Thus why certifications need to be renewed.
 

StewTech

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Mar 3, 2011
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US
I know that at our High School, those of us who work in the theatre are smart enough to know how to work safely.

We don't need to set up a flashing light and traffic cone warning the actors/singers/choir/band below that we are doing something on the Grid.

So long as we aren't stupid it is alright.

It's the same when working in the genie. Just keep your wrench in your hand or in the basket and you'll be alright. If you're changing gels, let the folks below you know and frisbee it down.

Just use common sense, and everyone is safe. We've never had and accident at our school (excepting the time a girl snuck into the theatre with a lock pick and used the saw to cut off a finger).

And I think that those of you who don't allow actors in the technical area are bias.

I've worked in theatre at a technician and as an actor, and I think it would be rude to not allow me to go back and forth. If I am capable of and have done stage managing or LDing before, then why would you not allow me to?
And if I've been in many shows before, why would you not allow me to?

Seems silly...
 

DHSLXOP

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Dec 25, 2006
Location
Fort Lauderdale, FL
I know that at our High School, those of us who work in the theatre are smart enough to know how to work safely.

We don't need to set up a flashing light and traffic cone warning the actors/singers/choir/band below that we are doing something on the Grid.

So long as we aren't stupid it is alright.

It's the same when working in the genie. Just keep your wrench in your hand or in the basket and you'll be alright. If you're changing gels, let the folks below you know and frisbee it down.

Just use common sense, and everyone is safe. We've never had and accident at our school (excepting the time a girl snuck into the theatre with a lock pick and used the saw to cut off a finger).

And I think that those of you who don't allow actors in the technical area are bias.

I've worked in theatre at a technician and as an actor, and I think it would be rude to not allow me to go back and forth. If I am capable of and have done stage managing or LDing before, then why would you not allow me to?
And if I've been in many shows before, why would you not allow me to?

Seems silly...
Not being stupid doesn't make anything safer. Just a few weeks ago, a friend of mine was in a Genie Lift using a screw gun to add some set decoration to a set. The screw gun accidentally slipped out of his hand. Is that considered stupidity? I wouldn't think so - he wasn't fooling around in the genie - he simply lost his grip. Luckily, his ground support were wearing hard hats (school policy), and the screw gun didn't hit anyone anyway. Had we had open access to the stage (aka actors and crew walking around without any protection), yes someone would have had more potential to get hurt. Accidents can and will happen but it is our job as technicians and designers to keep our friends and coworkers safe despite this. Common sense wouldn't have stopped this accident from happening - common sense is staying safe on the ground just in case.

Also, in terms of what you mentioned above, you shouldn't be throwing gels down anyway. Put it in the bucket and then take it all out when you get down on stage. A gel frame can still hurt/kill someone, especially if they don't have the right protective gear on (such as a hardhat).

What you mention above, with putting a warning sign is also not right, in my opinion. We will commonly flag areas where there is increased danger so that we all know them. Just a few weeks ago, we took out one of the stage pieces to put in a piece with a trap. While every technician in the space was more than aware that we were taking out a piece of the deck and there would be a 4'x4' hole in the stage, we still put up caution tape surrounding the hole so that no accidents could happen. Yeah - we all knew it was there - but we were proactive in making sure that accidents didn't occur - and guess what, because we were diligent, nothing happened. The same thing with the open pit. When a rehearsal is not in session, we keep a rope tied directly upstage of the pit. Just in case. I know that the pit was open - but I have no idea if I would remember that while pulling a genie lift downstage (for example). It is there for my safety. Again, it would be a mere accident if I fell into the pit - it wouldn't be me acting stupidly - I just would make a mistake, that everyone is bound to make at some point. Yeah, it seems extraneous, but its better to be safe than sorry, in my opinion.

I really wouldn't call it bias that technicians don't allow actors in technical areas. I think that it mainly depends on what you are doing for that particular show. For example, just because I designed lighting in high school, I don't have the right to touch the console and make changes to a show if I'm only on the crew in college. If your theatre's policy is that actors are not allowed in the booth, for example, and you are acting, you don't go in the booth. Period. It doesn't matter if you have done lighting before - if actors aren't allowed up, why should they make an exception for you? I kept actors out of my booth in high school because I didn't want them coming up during a show or rehearsal while I was working. If I allowed them up during the day, what is stopping them from thinking that they have access during shows to watch or "see what we technicians do?"

I guess that's just my $.02...
 

DuckJordan

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Joined
Oct 7, 2009
Location
Doesnt matter
I know that at our High School, those of us who work in the theatre are smart enough to know how to work safely.

We don't need to set up a flashing light and traffic cone warning the actors/singers/choir/band below that we are doing something on the Grid.

So long as we aren't stupid it is alright.

It's the same when working in the genie. Just keep your wrench in your hand or in the basket and you'll be alright. If you're changing gels, let the folks below you know and frisbee it down.

Just use common sense, and everyone is safe. We've never had and accident at our school (excepting the time a girl snuck into the theatre with a lock pick and used the saw to cut off a finger).

And I think that those of you who don't allow actors in the technical area are bias.

I've worked in theatre at a technician and as an actor, and I think it would be rude to not allow me to go back and forth. If I am capable of and have done stage managing or LDing before, then why would you not allow me to?
And if I've been in many shows before, why would you not allow me to?

Seems silly...
First off your use of the word "bias" is off, Bias is when you are disagreeing with somebody based upon an opinion. Most, if not all, cases where actors weren't allowed in technical areas is just the fact that most actors haven't had the experience to be safe around specific pieces of equipment. Think of it as if I came into your car without you knowing who i was or if i have a license do drive it. Would you let me drive your car? I don't think so.

As far as safety goes, wait till you hit college and see how you are actually supposed to do work safely. Its already shown you have bad habbit's such as tossing gel down to someone below. I'm not saying I haven't done it but its still very unsafe and I'll try and find the photo's of what happened to someones face after getting hit by a gel frame "Frisbee'd" down to him. It took 10 stitches and a full OSHA investigation to even be allowed to use metal frames in the space.

Safety has been talked about all over this board, check them out. Now I'm not saying that we should put flashing yellow signs all over the place. I also don't think anyone else here has said anything remotely close. We're talking about having safety rules posted for those who are in the space who may not be accustomed yet.
 

MNicolai

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So long as we aren't stupid it is alright.
It's really not. "Smart" and "stupid" may play a role in the likelihood that one person versus another will be the cause of an accident, but smart people get their thumbs caught in saws too. They also drop stuff from heights, and, get their arms blown off in arc flashes, and forget to unplug lamps before replacing them.

"Smart" makes you less likely to fall off of a ladder, but it doesn't make you invincible to momentary lapses in attention. What does make smart people a lot safer though is when they're surrounded by lots of other smart people -- people who are watching over those around in them and help catch mistakes before they turn into disasters.

It's a lot like that saying, "Anyone can stop a speeding bullet...once." You've got one shot in your career to screw up really big and then your career (and maybe your life) is gone, whether you were smart or stupid won't matter. When the safety of tens to thousands of people are in your hands, you're lucky to get a second chance.

I know I make mistakes, and I remind my students that I am frequently wrong and make mistakes just like they will, so just as I try to catch their mistakes, I encourage them to help me catch mine. There's a lot of trust there, but it's completely necessary because however smart I or anyone else thinks they are, nobody is invincible.

Consider a moment SCUBA divers. When you go diving to great depths, you rack up deco (decompression) obligations. If you resurface too quickly, your body will suffer decompression sickness and if you're still alive when you reach the surface, you'll be lucky to survive and will probably have to spend quite a bit of time in a decompression chamber. Thus, you have to make stops on the way up where you stay at a constant depth long for a period of time to allow your body to adjust before you can continue resurfacing.

The role your diving partner(s) has in deco obligations is ensuring you don't stay down too long; if you stay down too long and have too much time locked up in deco obligations going back to the surface, you'll either have to fulfill your obligations at the risk of running out of oxygen, or skip your obligations and take your chances going back to the surface. Whatever you choose to do, your partner is in the same boat you are so you both share equal responsibility in watching out for your own actions as well as each others' actions. Both of your lives depend on your buddy having your back and you have your buddy's back. "Smart" people end up in decompression chambers all of the time, just like they end up in ambulances. That's why it's important to be surrounded by people you trust and who trust you.

I've worked in theatre at a technician and as an actor, and I think it would be rude to not allow me to go back and forth. If I am capable of and have done stage managing or LDing before, then why would you not allow me to?
Because I don't know you.

Me, protecting myself, my facility, and my patrons, and any performers and staff members in my space, requires me to not trust you if I don't know you. If you walked into my theatre tomorrow and I knew nothing about you and hadn't received any recommendations for your quality of work, for me to be good at my job I have to be skeptical of you and your abilities until I see how you handle yourself. Tours don't usually grant enough time for people to get to know each other at a local stop, but if you were looking for a job at my theatre you wouldn't be up on the grid doing rigging maintenance the first day above a stage crowded with musicians and cast members -- that's a formula for disaster and I probably wouldn't even let my seasoned crew members perform work like that with so many oblivious people below.

If it was a tour situation and there was never going to be an opportunity for me to get to know your work, I'd be keeping a careful eye on you throughout the time that you're spending at my facility -- not necessarily looking over your shoulder, but when rigging starts moving, lifts are driving around, and people are all over the theatre, I'll probably want to be on stage keeping an eye out for hazards, especially because in my facility I'll know what's likely to be a hazard that a touring guy may not even notice.

For example, typically I'll trust guys coming in to use our scissor lifts, but I probably wouldn't trust them to log into our DSP and start messing with the settings (a situation we I encountered last weekend) just because they want the subs to be "more punchy". I also wouldn't be fond of them navigating the scissor lifts through our art gallery to get between the lobby and on stage. Still, it's really nice when touring guys don't just hop in the lift and get going -- I at least like to hear them ask permission so that I have the opportunity to briefly discuss with them what they intend to do while in the air.

A lawyer and a creative designer were doing a talk a month ago and a similar topic came up about trust:

"You Can Trust Us"

Mike Monteiro: This is the biggest red flag in client services; if you ever hear this phrase just walk away.

Lawyer Gabe: Yeah. It's not a matter of trust. Lawyers frequently have conversations with each other where one says to the other, "What? You don't trust my client?" No, that's not the case -- I don't know your client. I don't know him from Adam. If I don't, as an attorney, do my job to make sure my client's protected, which is assuming bad faith by the other side, I have to not trust them. The fact of the matter when you're doing business deals [...], you don't want to trust the person, necessarily, to pay you -- you want to make sure that you get paid.
"Smart" and "Experienced" don't make you invincible. The closest you can get to invincibility is having a clear line of communication between you and the people around you, as much trust between everyone as is reasonable, and in situations where you can't trust someone, you need to find a way to keep the wheels on the wagon without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If I don't know you, I won't have any problem with you thinking I'm being rude by not letting you do something -- it's not personal, I'm just not in a position where I feel I can afford to effectively vouch for someone I've only known for a few hours.
 
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mstaylor

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I know a very very experienced steel rigger have his leg amputated today from a shop accident. He and the entire crew working all had ten years plus in tat shop and it took to seconds to loose a leg, and if his coworkers weren't on top of it, his life.
I would put my life in his hands, and I have, because he is smart and very well trained. The problem is accidents happen and in our business they be devestating.
 

jglodeklights

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Apr 3, 2011
Location
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
I agree with mstaylor and mnicolai. Every situation is different and poses it's own problems, faults and new faces. This is the first year I am working with my current summer stock theater. Yes, I was able to get the light plot hung and circuited faster than the previous 2 ME's. Yet, I've still gone through the process of proving that I can operate their hemp system. I run a MUCH more difficult hemp house than here as one of my primary jobs, yet because they are cautious I've still had to prove I understand/know the system.

Every space is different. Even once you know the space you must exercise all applicable safety processes in their most current form. Whether rigging, set, electrics, sound, costume or props.
 

museav

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I know that at our High School, those of us who work in the theatre are smart enough to know how to work safely.

We don't need to set up a flashing light and traffic cone warning the actors/singers/choir/band below that we are doing something on the Grid.

So long as we aren't stupid it is alright.

It's the same when working in the genie. Just keep your wrench in your hand or in the basket and you'll be alright. If you're changing gels, let the folks below you know and frisbee it down.

Just use common sense, and everyone is safe. We've never had and accident at our school (excepting the time a girl snuck into the theatre with a lock pick and used the saw to cut off a finger).

And I think that those of you who don't allow actors in the technical area are bias.

I've worked in theatre at a technician and as an actor, and I think it would be rude to not allow me to go back and forth. If I am capable of and have done stage managing or LDing before, then why would you not allow me to?
And if I've been in many shows before, why would you not allow me to?

Seems silly...
Assessing what is stupid is often based on the outcome, what seemed a good idea initially may later seem stupid, so that is certainly not a good basis for determining what is safe. That you are even working on the grid with performers on the stage below and routinely 'frisbee' gels down supports that you may not have a good understanding of safe practices and risk management. And I'm guessing that you assume little legal liability for your actions, that liability falls on others who you apprently do not see being relevant to related decisions. The reality is that while you certainly may know when some things are unsafe, in terms of both liability and experience you are likely not in a position to make determinations of what is safe.

A very different scenario but I spent a couple of summers when I was in high school working on a golf course grounds crew. There were certain activities that I was prohibited from doing solely because of the restrictions imposed by the course's insurer on any workers that were under 18. It had nothing to do with ability, common sense or being smart versus stupid and everything to do with the liability and risk the employer incurred if I performed such tasks.
 

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