Treading the boards on Broadway or any other live event is not without risk. A Chubb expert breaks down how best to prepare and prevent injury.
A few years ago, an actress playing a flying monkey in the hit Broadway musical Wicked was seriously injured when her harness snapped, and she fell 15' to the stage deck. It’s not known what exactly failed— the safety harness, hoist, rope, or cables. But regardless of the reason behind the accident, one thing is certain: live entertainment can be dangerous without proper risk assessment and a solid plan to identify hazards and reduce accidents.
The responsibility for risk assessment is on each of us. Conducting risk assessments, early and often, allows you to rank hazards and prioritize the ones that need to be addressed quickly, to lower the potential for accidents and injuries. While selecting methods and tools to complete risk assessments may seem daunting, with countless articles, books, and presentations available detailing a myriad of risk assessment methodologies and applications, it is imperative to develop a protocol you can use consistently and repeatedly. This article serves as a guide to simplifying this process and provides tips to help you select a system that works for you and your organization.
Assessing risk to injury and property damage is a responsible practice that, when done well, can become a core function within your organization. To ease the burden on individuals, take a team approach. Pull from multiple departments and assemble your team at varying times throughout the project. This can allow you to cast a wider assessment net across more areas of an event or production and get varying points of view and broader observations that can ultimately result in a safer production for all involved.
The ESTA Technical Standards Program has published guidance and examples of risk assessment methodologies that can be applied to the live entertainment industry.
Developed by groups of entertainment industry professionals, these methodologies can be applied across a broad range of operations within our industry.
Find the Floors Working Group's example method and explanatory materials in ANSI E1.46 “Standard for the Prevention of Falls from Theatrical Stages and Raised Platforms” and in ANSI E1.60 “Guidelines for the Use of Raked Stages in Live Performance Environments.”
Find the Rigging Working Group's example risk assessment methodology in ANSI E1.6-1 “Entertainment Technology – Powered Hoist Systems.”
Share the components of your risk assessment process, such as definitions, rating scales, team member assignment, etc., with your team and others, to maintain a consistent approach. A well trained team, using a well-defined system, can become proficient in a relatively short amount of time.
Training the team that will implement your chosen strategy is perhaps the most important task in establishing a successful risk assessment program. Take time prior to each risk assessment to outline the goals you want to accomplish and provide appropriate training and orientation to the scope of the specific assessment. Even the most seasoned professionals will benefit from these actions.
Assessing risk in small, focused efforts multiple times throughout the life of the project allows you to leverage departmental and individual expertise. It also lets you alter conditions to mitigate risks you’ve identified along the way. For instance, by conducting focused assessments during the design, construction, and final set installation phases, you can incorporate risk improvements during all stages of the production. By embedding risk assessment activities and small course corrections into your standard business practice, you will find that your productions and operations are safer and the process itself is more efficient.
Be sure to formally document your process during the initial assessment and track the impact of your risk mitigation actions. Your risk assessment should be a living document that ranks the risks being evaluated and prioritizes them, so they can be addressed with corrective actions. Each time you evaluate them again, you will hopefully show reduced risks.
A simple matrix, that includes space for hazard listing, notes, and listing of rankings and ranking changes, can be used to facilitate the process and communicate the results.
All risk assessment methodologies have one thing in common: they are in place to mitigate risk to acceptable and tolerable levels. The risk assessment process is not intended to eliminate all risks and hazards. Ultimately, there is risk inherent to performing and producing live entertainment events, and all team members need to remember that.
If incorporated into your everyday practices, risk assessment can be a powerful and valuable tool to evaluate and control your exposures to injury and property damage.
In the live entertainment industry, we find new technical methods, creatively envision new effects, and find ways to push the boundaries of live productions on a daily basis, exposing us to known and emerging risks. While risk assessment is not a rigid standard or code that must be followed by the letter, it is an adaptable and malleable tool that, if leveraged on a daily basis, can help us produce events that wow patrons and attendees and maintain the safety of everyone involved.
Steven B. Serafin is an Entertainment and Product Liability Specialist for Chubb. He has been in the insurance loss control industry for 16 years, providing consulting services for the general commercial industry, local governmental entities, and accounts in Chubb’s Entertainment Underwriting Group. Steve is a member of several working groups within the ESTA Technical Standards Program, including ANSI Technical Standards for Rigging, Floors, Stage Machinery, and the Event Safety Working Group.
He holds a Certified Safety Specialist Designation from the World Safety Organization and is a Certified Safety Professional from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals.
This article appeared originally in Protocol: The Journal of the Entertainment Technology Industry