Paying Attention to Safety in Stage Design

Paying Attention to Safety in Stage Design

It's best for anyone involved in rigging to have some formal training. If not that, at least some informal training from an experienced rigger is recommended.

Safety is of huge importance in production especially in the church world. Each week, we get the privilege of inviting family and guests to our church home. It's our responsibility to keep those in our building safe, so that they can experience the life change God has planned for them. This includes our stage designs.

Rigging Safety in Stage Design

One of the most vulnerable areas in church stage design safety is rigging. Rigging includes anything that is flown in the air. It's best for anyone involved in rigging to have some formal training. If not that, at least some informal training from an experienced rigger is recommended. Although training is sometimes expensive, it is well worth it. Many local production and rigging vendors host rigging workshops. These are filled with great information.

Most of the time, people don't mean to be unsafe.

Even without training, common sense can go a long way. You should never hang from a beam or surface without knowing what it can hold. You should also always know what weight a piece of hardware or material can hold. If hardware is not marked, you should assume that it's not rated.

All professional rigging comes with a weight rating marked on it. As a rule of thumb, I always use materials and rigging rated for five times the weight carried. This is to account for any sudden weight changes that could occur from a movement of the truss, scenic, or flown element. For smaller elements like chain and U-bolts, look for pieces that have a safe working load at your local hardware store.

Fire Safety in Stage Design

Fire safety is also a huge concern for keeping your church family safe. Fires can consume and kill very swiftly.

In 2003, a fire at The Station nightclub killed 100 people. Although the fire was started by pyrotechnics that should not have been used in that venue, the building was fully engulfed in flames in only 5 five minutes (in large part due to the sound-proofing materials used in the room).

Take great care when choosing materials.  When using drape, only choose drape that is certified as flame retardant. Keep in mind that washing, repeated dry cleaning, surface dust accumulation, and other factors can affect the flame retardancy of fabric, even with fabric certified as inherently or permanently flame retardant. Have your drapery tested and re-certified by a certified fabric flame retardancy tester/applicator, to ensure that it remains flame retardant, and re-treat or replace drapery as needed. You can also use fire retardant solutions to treat many other materials, including lumber.

Be aware that flame retardant does not mean that a fabric will not burn. Instead, it means that the fabric will experience much less burning, at a slower rate, than a fabric that is not flame retardant, and that the flame will self-extinguish when the fire source is removed. That is why, even when using flame retardant drapes and other materials, it is important to take additional safety measures. It is imperative to have multiple fire extinguishers backstage and in the sound booth for any unexpected emergency. Make certain that fire exits and exit paths are never blocked.

Stage Design Safety on a Budget

Most of the time, people don't mean to be unsafe. Usually it's because they are uneducated or believe there is not enough budget to do things safely. For those with limited resources, I encourage you to structure your sets so they fit within the resources your leadership trusts to you. A set made of Coroplast and tie line is cheap, light, and has a very high temperature of ignition.

If it is important to your leadership to create environments, help educate them on how (and what the cost is) to do it safely. You might just be surprised at how important it is to them too.

Rule of Thumb for Stage Safety

The best rule of thumb for safety is: if you are unsure, it is probably unsafe. If you are new to stage design and concerned about safety; reach out to one of the many great stage designers in the church community. Many of them will be willing to teach and educate you on the best ways to serve your congregation and keep them safe.

Additional Resources

Rigging Resources (Rigging Safety)
Rigging Training (Sapsis Rigging)
Rigging Collapse Story in BC (CBC)
Station Nightclub Fire (Wikipedia)
Station Nightclub Fire (NFPA)

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