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Some Questions About Safety

Discussion in 'Lighting and Electrics' started by rochem, Jul 22, 2008.

  1. rochem

    rochem Well-Known Member

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    Hey all,

    As I've been browsing this forum more and more, I keep finding many references to safety and OSHA regulations and such. It all got me thinking about how safe our operations are at my high school when we're hanging and focusing FOH instruments.

    We have a bar at FOH which hangs from the ceiling about 1/3 of the way into the audience. There's no catwalk or anything, the only way to get up here is from the ground. Since there are seats below the bar, we are forced to use a ladder that is about 16-20 feet long. But the legs will not fit between the rows of seats. So we have to become creative. We find a large wooden table with legs retracted and set it upside down resting on the seat backs. We mount the ladder on top of the table and viola - you have a wobbly and unsturdy ladder that can slide down the seat backs at will (which are slanted down by the way). Now to actually do anything up there, you obviously have to have instruments and tools. So you grab your 15 pound Source 4 and free climb the ladder. Now you're finally at the top, but to hang the instrument you need both hands. So you brace your legs against the side of the ladder and lean out to try to get the safety cable over the bar before you drop it. During all of this you're basically praying that the table-with-ladder doesn't decide to start sliding down the rows of seats, which if it doesn't make you fall immediately, will give you a nasty bruise or two when that table reaches the front row and there's no more seats. It's worth mentioning that we have no one waiting at the bottom holding the ladder or the table, and nothing even resembling a fall arrest system. Also, while the aisles are carpeted, the areas under the seats are just cement with nothing over them. But that's only if the hundreds of seat backs below you didn't break your fall (and your neck) first.

    I'm kinda curious as to what others think of this. Since we're a high school and we're not paid, I'm pretty sure OSHA doesn't apply, but assuming it did, would they be mildly uneasy with our setup? Also, does anyone have any ideas about what could be done to make it safer? There's no way we can get anything under there due to the seats, our only possibility would be some sort of a Genie that can extend about 20 feet out to one side. And we can't drive a cherry picker into our theatre, so that's not an option either.

    Unfortunately, I think it is this way at many other schools. At least 2 other schools in my area have this same situation, and those are just the ones I've seen. I also have seen photos on here and elsewhere of high school theatres with the same issues. Do you all do the same thing, or are you slightly less suicidal than us? I myself have been up on that ladder many times, including once when I came within inches of falling from the top. My right foot was the only thing that was still on the ladder, and I luckily managed to regain my balance. The next person may not be so lucky.

    So... What do ya think?
     
  2. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    It's easy to think that as a high-schooler, you can get by, and then if you choose to move on with this as a profession, you'll be much safer and get through life just fine, but that doesn't work if you don't survive your teenage years.

    The most important thing to remember is that as hard as it may be to tell somebody you don't want to do something because it doesn't appear safe, it's a lot harder to walk when your neck is snapped in two.

    Food for thought.


    ---------

    By the way, I know the position you're in. I've been in that position a lot. Just keep in mind that you don't always get a second chance.
     
  3. JD

    JD Well-Known Member

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    Sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen. In this case, you almost have to abandon using the FOH and go with some form of side lighting. You really are risking death or life as a paraplegic should and accident occur. About the only "safe" access would be with scaffold. I question what staff member would allow putting students at such risk.
     
  4. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Scaffolding above seats is tricky, and even trickier if the seating plane is slanted. If that's the case, then even scaffolding is out of the question. If the scaffolding is put on on an angle, then it could easily become top-heavy and fall over. Depends on the grade and the height though. 16-20' is about 3 rungs of scaffolding up, borderline 4 if memory serves me correctly.
     
  5. waynehoskins

    waynehoskins Active Member

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    Uh, yeah, not so safe.

    There are three solutions I can think of that would be much less, as you say, "suicidal" than what you have (which I thought I was "unsafe" in using (moderately short) ladders on top of right-side-up tables on flat surfaces!).

    I don't think I've seen an extending A-frame that wouldn't clear seats. This is quite probably the least expensive solution.

    Also, there are straddle frames for Genie lifts (made by Genie), that will fit between rows of seats and elevate the conventional Genie over the seats. These are very slick, very cool, though since they have to support the weight of the whole stinking Genie and whatever's in it (and lift it up by cable to a position in the frame where it can be pinned) they add a lot of weight to the lift, not fun to try to push down a sidewalk solo and try to make it not end up in the grass.

    More elegant (to me) and certainly less heavy is scaffolding, particularly the aluminum stuff, though the steel stuff (painter's scaff) isn't bad either. It breaks down really small and can be moved very easily.

    Any of those three would be far preferable to what you have there, which is a disaster waiting to happen. Maybe not waiting, perhaps screaming.

    The A-frame is I believe the least expensive, and they're available through the regular theatrical suppliers. It's not completely for the faint-of-heart, though with the situation you describe there, nobody will have heart problems from an extending A-frame. The scaff is next in cost, and it's probably the easiest to work from since you have a large platform at top that can hold people and things. The straddle frame I'm sure is stupid expensive.

    It's also not that great to climb a ladder with a light or cable or whatnot in your hand. In college we had 5-gallon buckets with rope tied to the handles that were used to bring gel and other small things from the ground to the air; and we used a rope with a bowline in the end to bring lights up. It's much easier too if you can rig a sheave to the pipe, or at the least run the rope around the pipe, so the guy on the ground pulls the rope to raise the load, rather than you in the air lifting the load.

    Also, that brings up another good point: the guy on the ground. Even on a perfectly safe ladder/lift/scaff you shouldn't be working in the air alone, especially in high school. There should always be at least one more person there, if nothing else to help you and, should you fall, be able to call 911.

    Man, this may be a first: I'm usually the guy who doesn't have a problem doing "unsafe" things...
     
  6. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Sounds horridly unsafe to me.

    Firstly, carrying anything up a ladder is verbotten. Have a professional show you how to rig a sheave at the lighting position and use a rope twice as long as the height and make the people on the ground do the hoisting.

    Secondly, look into one of these, by JLG.
    [​IMG]

    Genie Industries
    makes a similar device, specifically for straddling seats.
    [​IMG]

    Thirdly, contact your local scaffolding supplier and invite them to offer a solution. Certain types of scaffolds are specifically designed to straddle obstacles and adjust for sloped surfaces. This will most likely be your most economic alternative.

    Most importantly,
    Stay safe, stay alive. Gravity kills!
     
  7. rochem

    rochem Well-Known Member

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    The administration has officially forbidden students from ever getting up on the ladder, as it can be very dangerous. They even strongly discourage any adult from getting up there.

    Unoficially, the principal helped me find and set up the ladder last time we were focusing lights.

    You fill in the blanks. I think everyone realizes that we need to get lights up there, and this is the only way.
     
  8. fredthe

    fredthe Active Member

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    Genie does make a base for one of their small lifts that's designed to allow operation over theater seats. This would certanly be the safest option.

    Scaffolding would likely be the next best option, but it would need to be sized to fit over the seats properly, and properly leveled... this may be difficult to achieve.

    Ladders should only be used on level, stable surfaces (but you probably already knew that.) I've been up on some prettly tall ladders, but I've always made sure that the base is stable, and usually had two people at the bottom just on case (for A-frame ladders.) I have, on several occasions, started up a ladder, only to come back down because it just didn't feel right. Don't be afraid to say no.

    One possible good choice for a ladder would be the large, adjustable A-frame from Little Giant.
    Little Giant SkyScraper Ladder ® from Little Giant Ladder ® - Type MXZ

    As for OSHA, they may or may not be able to walk in and stop the unsafe practice before someone gets hurt. But that doesn't mean that it's not a good idea to pay attention to their guidelines.

    -Fred
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2008
  9. Wolf

    Wolf Active Member

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    This is very very unsafe. FYI OSHA does apply to High Schools. If you fall I think you'll be luck if you only get a broken wrist. Also as the other above have said you fall and die theres no chance of moving on and being in a better venue with a proper FOH. I know sometimes this is how things have to be done (that doesnt make it ok though). If OSHA walked in when this was happening the school would be in a lot of trouble. Also to the statement to hanging light, Take a rope with you that is preferably twice the length from floor to ceiling and put it over the pipe. Lower one end to the ground for someone to tie a bow-line onto the light so they can pull it up to you. And I hope that you attaching you wrench and other tools to your body. Also have someone holding at least the table sturdy, even if your only working on a A-Frame its always nice to have a dead weight (Person) on the other side.

    Please be safe, we dont wont to loose any smart lighting technicians to a dumb accident like a ladder slipping.

    -After thought- Take out a row or so of seats under the FOH bar get a genie under there.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2008
  10. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    Sounds terribly unsafe. Try to get something safer!!! Perhaps take pictures/video and send it to your board of education with the title: A lawsuit waiting to happen. Please help keep us alive!!!
     
  11. rochem

    rochem Well-Known Member

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    The problem with an A-frame ladder is that I'm fairly sure it won't fit between our rows - which is why we have to use a table in the first place. Since our seat backs are slanted back and our seats are slanted forward, and since our rows curve slightly around the stage, I don't think it would work. As a rough guess from memory, I would estimate that if you were looking directly down between two rows from above, there would be MAYBE 1 or 2 inches of free space all the way down. This may also rule out the other two options, depending on their size. And as MNicolai said, our slanted floor would probably rule out scaffolding.

    I don't like it either, and I would love to have something better. But I'm afraid of the standard school response, which is "fine - no front lighting whatsoever." And as much as I hate to admit it, if I refuse, there's another tech standing there who will do it, no matter what I say. And I would rather put myself in danger than have someone doing my job fall to their death.

    As for the lifting of instruments, that's a good idea and I have no clue why I never thought of it. I will definitely start doing that.
     
  12. waynehoskins

    waynehoskins Active Member

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    Much as the key to success in your job is to show up, and the key to passing classes in university is to show up, the key to success as an LD or ME is to live, with control of all four major appendages and the minor ones as well, to you can show up and get better.

    Oh God.

    When I say "Oh God!", that means something is horribly horribly wrong. I've done many unsafe things in my short time (though aware they were potentially unsafe and always done with safety in mind), but you couldn't pay me enough to get up on that rig. This is the guy who has put ladders on tables (and once, a table on top of tables), and I'm worried for you.

    It ain't worth the risk. Don't go up again until it's safe, and always always make sure there's somebody else there with you. In fact, there'd better be a staff or faculty person there with you; the schools I've worked with have required that (or at least a competent adult).

    A local LD I know fell once from a moderately short (12-foot) ladder at his theatre. He was in the space alone at night, and he's a safe guy, he's been doing this since the '70s. He was working over audience seating, at split levels, though I believe he had a filler box under the low side to generally even the ladder out. He lost his balance (thankfully he was only focusing and not hanging at the time), and the ladder shot clear to the other corner of the arena stage (30 feet square or so) and he landed on the metal theatre seats below him. He's recovered pretty well, gets generally around okay (says he's very lucky), but for a fair while his back and knees were a might angry at him. There's some stuff he used to be able to do that he can't do now.

    Michael O'Brien is a lucky one. And he's a safe guy.

    What you're doing there doesn't threaten to do the same to you or one of your colleagues: it promises to do that, or worse.

    Don't be stupid.

    End rant.

    edit: Michael's back and knees weren't moderately angry at him, that's putting it too lightly. They were moderately ****ed-up. I hope the mods don't mind that expression (feel free to edit it if necessary), and I don't use that often. That should convey some sense of the gravity with which we're all speaking.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2008
  13. rochem

    rochem Well-Known Member

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    I want to clarify something that I may not have been clear on. There are always other people in the theatre at the time when we are doing this, including at least one adult. I'm not THAT stupid. However, they are usually just techies working on the set or something, and not actually involved in the hang/focus. So if someone were to fall, people would notice immediately. Sorry if I didn't make that clear.
     
  14. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    I partially retract my earlier statement on scaffolding. If you have scaffolding with wheels, you're playing with fire, but if you have leveling pegs for feet then you might have a pretty good shot at getting something to work. If it would work, you'd be pretty safe without a question, but that says nothing for the difficulty it would be moving lifting the scaffolding around. That's a much better thing to be concerned about though than getting killed.

    Because you don't know if it would work or not though, check with a local scaffolding dealer, ask them to bring a set out, and ask them to set a rig up on-site that you can check out before committing to purchase anything. I believe a set of a scaffolding retails for about $1k, but if you can haggle the price you'd be sitting better. Also, you can make quite a bit of headroom if you were to involve your principle in that meeting, even have him/her climb on up, see how they feel about it, and then move on from there.
     
  15. FMEng

    FMEng Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Don't make excuses. Any life safety concern is too important! Invite a ladder and scaffolding dealer to your theater. They will show you several options that will work, regardless of the complications. For sure, there are scaffolds that work on stairs, inclines, and un-level ground.

    I hate to even suggest half-measures, but you could at least build something to go on top or over the seats that is purpose built for the task. It could have blocks attached to prevent it from sliding, and could be designed so that the ladder legs are on a nearly level surface. Put cleats where the legs sit so the ladder cannot wobble off. If you do make something, way over design it, and build it like a batteship (like your life depends on it).
     
  16. rochem

    rochem Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for all the feedback. Once school gets started in the fall, I will definitely talk to my director and principal and go find a scaffolding dealer. I honestly had never really thought about how dangerous it could be until I started reading this forum and reading other peoples accounts of their theatres.
     
  17. TimMiller

    TimMiller Well-Known Member

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    There have been many times i have been asked to rig something or climb something that I do not feel comfortable about I just say higher a rigger. I tell them I do not feel comfortable and do not want the liability if something were to happen. There are some schools that i am installing moving lights at, and they are dealing with the same problem. They have future plans to install motors to lower down those impossible little bars to climb up to. When they told me they wanted some lights hung up there. I told them it was going to cost some extra $$$, but i brought in a fall arrest system, and some motors to bring up the instruments so i could hang them on their battons until we later motorize the thing. It is very scary what all does on in high schools. My college has gotten better, but when i ask them why do you not have a guard on this saw, their response is OSHA does not apply to colleges. I am a very firm believer in using safety guards. I know they can make work difficult sometimes, but they can also save your limbs from being chopped off or severely cut. I would also go for the scaffolding route for your facility. You can even rent scaffolding for a day, for your focus and tech. They will come in and set it up and take it down for you. I'm assuming you only do a few shows a year, so you only need it a few times a year. But there is nothing wrong with purchasing also. We had a scaffolding that was a big life saver. We even tore it down and moved it into our black box to make focusing and hanging easier.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2008
  18. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    One more vote for DO NOT EVER GO BACK UP AGAIN!

    Falls from above SIX FEET are more likely to be fatal than not fatal. Did you get that? Above SIX FEET... odds are you will DIE.

    If you survive the odds of death then the odds say you are most likely to be paralyzed the rest of your life. Just stop and think about all the things you want to do in your life and how different they would be if you were lucky enough to survive the fall as only a paraplegic. While your friends are off to college, finding someone special, having kids, growing old and fat, going on cruises in their old age, and spoiling grand kids... you will get to spend the rest of your life in a motorized wheelchair unable to eat, poop, or pee without assistance... oh and bed soars are REALLY fun. There's only about a 10% chance of you crawling away from that fall with only a few minor broken bones. Don't go back up there.

    Either the people in charge at your school are idiots or they don't care about your safety. As someone who's worked with young people my whole life, I find it disgusting and despicable that they would allow you to go up there. It's NOT worth it. Let the adults risk their lives going up there if they think it's so safe. Don't go back!

    Now the details: OSHA and state codes only cover employees... but that doesn't really matter if you are dead. If you are a student but you have been paid to work a gig at school then it's more of a gray area and OSHA may apply. OSHA would never let a paid employee climb like that.

    I recently purchased a 12' high 5x7 rolling scaffold for about $1700. My guess is your local scaffold dealer probably has a solution for under $2000. If that's too expensive then no front light. Leave them right where they are and make sure no one else goes back up either.

    What if the next person goes up and dies? Do you want to live with that guilt? If you refuse to go but others continue I would consider calling the school district's risk management people... they will have the authority to make sure no one goes up again. They might also have the authority to make sure you are able to purchase a safe way to get up there. It's a gamble calling them in as they might shut it down and that's it. But they might be able to get the resources you need.

    "The show must go on!" What a STUPID thing for us to actually believe in. Getting the light right for a high school talent show is NEVER worth risking the life of a teenager with so much life still to come.

    If the adults in charge at your school need someone to talk some sense into them I bet just about everyone who has posted in this thread would be happy to call them and teach them how dangerous this is. Don't be afraid to ask for some additional help in the form of a phone call from an expert in the industry. We might be able to talk "Whatrigger?" into making the call he would put the fear of God (i.e. fear of gravity) into them.

    Once more... Don't go back up there.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2008
  19. Sayen

    Sayen Active Member

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    One of the schools that I worked at had a similar setup for their FOH lighting - two pipes bolted to the ceiling, one on the left and one on the right side of the house, more or less centered. Each had lighting circuits, but were unused by previous instructors because of the risk. We rented a safe and appropriate lift and hung some old Shakespeares to create a decent wash. I put new, long life lamps in them, and then just tried to do most of my lighting from other locations, supplementing the wash. For a school with average lighting use, you should get a decent lifespan from the instruments, and don't have to go through the hassle or safety risk of dealing with the lights on a regular basis.

    Sometimes, especially in school theater, it just isn't worth the hassle.
     
  20. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Sapsis' Focus Track or something similar would be a cool permanent solution.

    A community theater in the area here has a similar product that I think may be custom made. It looks like a genie lift basket made of 1" square steel tubing hanging from a track. It's suspended from the track with steel tube, not chain like the Sapsis product, so it's very stable. You climb a ladder on the side and get in the basket and pull yourself across the house to focus lights. Very slick and very safe. Note this custom made product was designed by a theater consultant and had some professional engineering and installationg... Don't try to slap something together on your own like these products.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2008

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