Basic Safe Practices
I was working with some younglings last week, and it's part of my regular conversation, we spent a good amount of time on workplace safety. As I listed various practices, I spent a little time on "the why" behind the practice, and share examples of how a failure to follow procedure might result in an accident - or worse, a tragedy.
As I went through the most common, I started to realize how many of my examples were from accidents that I witnessed or affected someone I knew personally. Albeit, I've been doing this for a number of years, but I was still shocked at the number of accidents that I could personally speak to. At one point, I even stopped and said, "Damn, this job really can be dangerous." I say that to mean, as we go about our day, so much is process and procedure that we can take for granted the actual danger that surrounds us.
So I figured I would share some common, important best practices and safety protocols and the "why" behind them. This is for the new kids, of course. But also, as much for us vets that forget how dangerous the job can be - not only if we don't follow protocol, but if we fail to teach and correct those around us.
"Lift[gate] Coming In" [dock safety]
When loading or unloading a bobtail truck or any box with a lift gate, always call it when you start to move the lift gate. Loading and unloading can be fast paced, but mindless - and often filled with a number of conversations. A stagehand that's not paying attention can lose a toe under the gate or a finger in the chain or maybe take a rider to the side of the head because they don't realize the head, and hastily set load is now moving.
Although I've seen a few accidents, some more costly than other, the one that involved human injury is what were focused on here. So I'm reminded of a load-in where the truck's owner was screaming at his crew. As they unloaded the truck, he berated his guys, screaming obscenities and insulting them. I guess we know why the lift operator didn't call out that the lift was coming in - but it was and good ol' company owner didn't hear it over his own voice. In fact he didn't turn to face the load until the lift was inches from his feet, and caught off guard, he didn't jump back in time until he came down on his foot. He didn't finish the load-in,. His guys did, and at least it was quieter.
"Cable Swing" [aerial lift safety]
When working in a lift, inevitably you may have to let a cable loose from your basket. Often it's during load-out and your cable is caught up and they path is obstructed. Your only choice is to let the cable swing from your basket and the head may reach a height below where it potentially comes in contact with someone. Problem is, when you let the cable go, inertia will keep it swinging for some time afterward - so even if there is nobody beneath when you drop it, while it pendulums below, some unwitting passerby, especially those not accustom to swinging cables (like client) may walk into its path.
I once watched as a projectionist freed a soca from its loom for an electric to recover. As he let it loose from his basket, I watched as the A1 walked below, distracted by his phone. The cable passed in front of him, inches from his head and as went, the cable returned behind him, again only inches. The funny (and its only funny because the injury was minor) part of this story was another stagehand on the ground yelled out, "WATCH OUT!" as the cable passed by. Startled, the A1 popped his head up, looked around and took a step back - right into the cable's path as it made another pass. He took a glancing blow from the 50FT cable with a 19-pin head. No injury reported, but I ordered the projectionist to file a Near Miss / Hazardous Condition report of the incident, simply because it could have been much worse.
"Up on Three" [genie safety]
When you are summoned to watch a motor as the truss is raised to trim, it's important you watch the motor. It's not break time. It's not a time to catch up on current affairs or spread the latest gossip. It's time to watch for the motor's chain to get kinked as it goes out. A kinked chain can cause a myriad of problems, from a blown motor, broken chain or worse, the truss is suspended by few points that is required to safely lift its load, and the other motors or rigging fails, which brings the truss crashing to the ground. But just as important, if you're tasked to man a Genie lift, do not abandon your post and pay close attention to the person calling the truss move. The same can happen with genies as with motors, but the danger is considerably higher, since there is at least one other Genie operator, often more, lifting the same truss.
We were in a ballroom with no hang points, so we had to ground support an L shaped span of truss - 20FT to a corner block and 10FT shooting off 90 degrees. The payload was six Mac 2K movers and a half dozen lekos. Three Genies, one at each end and one at the corner block. The 3 Genie operators just about had the truss at trim, when the moment was slowed for a moment. The Genie op at the corner block suddenly bolted to the kraft services table because F&B brought in ice cream bars. As he made his way back, he realized the truss was continue to move. Nobody notice he wasn't at his post as the truss started to lean back and nearly cause the other two to tip over. Needless to say, that electric didn't have much of an appetite for the ice cream once the LD finished tearing him a new rear end.
"Lift Moving" [aerial lift safety]
Aerial lifts such as Scissor Lifts or Boom Lifts are common place on just about every load-in, smaller shows with 1-2 and larger shows with an entire motor pool or man lifts, scissors, booms, beer cans, forks, reach forks and golf carts. With so many motorized vehicles and so many men and woman sharing the same floor space, it's imperative that you call out when you're ready to move your lift, especially if your platform is raise and/you don't have a ground rigger or spotter to clear your path. Remember: Job sites are loud and most lifts are electric, and even if it's propane fueled, there are so many that the sounds get muted in our head. For those on the ground, please assume that the lift operator cannot see you. There is so much going on during a load-in or load-out, do you really want to risk your lift or a limb on the odds that he doesn't get distracted?
We were hanging lights on a 60FT length of truss at working height when a left operator was moving back and forth a short distance from us, hanging points for the next row of truss. As he continued to zip back and forth I kept yelling at him to call his movements because he'd be there one moment, gone the next just to return without us noticing. As we got near to finishing that leg, the head rigger realize his motor cable was too short, and since we hadn't planned on the cables living on the truss, he broke the connection and ran a direct route to from his distro to the motor. Whether he didn't realize or recognize the movements of our mute rigger overhead, he paid no mind to the fact that his cable crossed the his path. Once connected, he walked back the 35ft to his distro and by the time he turned around, the lift operator moved closer to the truss and snagged his motor cable. Nobody noticed until the truss lurched to the left, at the same time the slack was pulled in and the motor distro started to follow. "HOLD YOU MORON!" was the last thing that op heard before the truss crashed into his lift, damaging the cable, the motor and a 10ft span of global truss.
Bonus Safety Protocol: Cell Phone Use
I would have led off with this one if I could think of a verbal directive because it's one that's most important and often violated. There should be NO cell phone use on an active production floor. It's simple, if you're looking down, then you're not looking up. Which means, when you're sending a text or on a call, your not scanning the area around you or you're distracted.
I've seen stagehands and clients walk into lowered truss, trip on gear, tumble into a roadcase, get hit by swinging soca (see Cable Swing), fall off a deck and even walk into someone else on their phone. I can't say it enough, if the call or text is urgent, inform your lead, step to the perimeter of the active work area, away from aerial hazards or pathways, and send your message. Don't return until your phone is stowed. I have sent stagehands home for repeated offenses, not because they are popular, but because I'm trying to keep them alive.
More to come...
This is by no means an exhaustive collection of safety procedures - or even comprehensive, since I could list dozens more. But with descriptions and examples for each, it would be a chapter in a book, if not an entire book. So I'll keep this one thorough, but incomplete - and maybe open the topic up for others to share their experiences. Post you thoughts in the comments below and remember to be respectful of each other. Whether advice is unrelated or perhaps inaccurate, let's be considerate that it's all about safety.
We're just trying to keep each other alive.