Theatrical Safety

Theatrical Safety

by Stephen Dean (c) 2011

 This is a document that wrote a while ago for an community theatre group as a bit of a guide to OHS. Feel free to read and comment.

Theatre may seem a glamorous and magical place to work, but it is probably one of the most dangerous places to work. Working in theatre is a potentially dangerous thing; it tends to involve areas like electricity, heights, explosives and other items, which are dangerous enough on their own without being combined into one event.

Everybody’s health and safety in theatrical productions is to be regarded as the primary concern for all people involved in the production. Safety is the responsibility all people; you all have to look out for each other.

It is everybody’s responsibility to be on the look out for un-safe work practises and conditions.

If you notice something that is unsafe you should immediately report it..

The golden rule for safety is “if in doubt, don’t do it”. Never guess with backstage work. It can prove to be fatal. You are responsible for your own safety and the safety of people around you.

If you are unsure of something ask someone that knows. We are all help to help each other.

Do not be afraid to ask for help.

So let us look at some safety aspects that you have to be aware of.


The lighting and sound department are notorious for trailing cables all over the place. Now these are a safety hazard, people have a tendency to trip over them, even if they know they are there. So all cables need to be taped down firmly, especially if they are across doorways or gangways. Where possible run cables over the top of doorways or use heavy-duty cable covers. (In the near future the law will require cable covers). All electrical cables should always be un-coiled, running current through a coiled cable generates heat and then possibly fire.  Always use a Residual Current Device when plugging tools, hairdryers etc into a normal power point. Always check the cable before you use it, making sure it is safe.


Ladders should always be used in the correct manner.

It is the responsibility of all people that use ladders in productions to ensure that they are in good condition and are at all times used safely.

Only non-conductive ladders made from wood or fibreglass should be used when there is a potential for electrical hazard.

Never leave tools or other object on the top or any steps.

Ladder Usage Tips

Always be careful where ladders are placed, particularly near doorways etc. Either re-position the ladder or set up barricades before using the ladder.

Always ensure that ladders are used on stable ground, with a firm backing for straight ladders. A general rule for straight ladders is to have the base ¼ of the length of the ladder away from the wall.

It is advisable to have someone holding the base of a ladder.

Ladders are never to be used in a horizontal fashion for any purpose.

Never extend the height of a ladder by placing it on cases or boxes.

Never use a stepladder as a straight ladder.

You should never work on the top step of a ladder.

Never lean out from a ladder, move the ladder closer to the work.

When using a stepladder make sure it is fully extended.

Do not leave tools at the top of a ladder.

Only one person on a ladder at a time.

Always get someone to help you move the ladder.

Never climb a ladder with tools in your pocket, invest in a tool belt.

Electrical Safety

All electrical equipment and cables need to be kept in a safe working condition. All equipment must conform to Australian standards. All equipment has to have a current safety tag on it.

Always check equipment before you use it, and report any damages. Before you use a cable or a piece of electrical equipment perform a visual check of it. Make sure that the cable is not frayed, correctly attached, loose wires or breaks in the insulation. Never overload a power point with electrical devices. The total load is 10amps. Never use double adaptors, always use a power board.

All portable electrical equipment must have an earth leakage circuit breaker (ELCB) or a residual current device (RCD) located at the power source and at all times be functioning. So always use the Safety Switch power board when using power tools, hairdryers etc., on a normal power point. Never use an extension cable between a safety switch device and a power point.

Never operate electrical equipment that you believe is intermittent or faulty. Remove such items from use and have them tagged and examined by a certified electrician. Before any work is to be done on any electrical equipment make sure is not connected to a power source.

Where portable lighting is used this must be secured in place and be in safe working condition.

Where electrical leads, mains, flexible cords or cords are to be placed across roadways, work areas or work access ways, they must be suitably protected from damage and also secured.


Safe Work Practices

  • Always wear appropriate clothing
  • Always wear footwear that covers your feet.
  • Never lift anything to large or heavy by yourself, ask for help.
  • Mark edges of steps and rostra etc., with white tape or paint.
  • Never run backstage.
  • Know where the First Aid Kit is.
  • Know where the exits are.
  • Know where the fire extinguishers and other fire fighting equipment are and how to operate it.
  • Make yourself familiar with the evacuation plan for the venue.
  • When using power tools check that they are ok e.g. power cable is intact.
  • Do not obscure fire exits and access points and fire fighting equipment.
  • Keep stage area and wing areas, tidy and free of anything not related to the show.
  • When handling theatre lights be aware that the can get very hot.
  • Always make sure the light is secured to the lighting bar.
  • Always use safety chains on lights.
  • Make sure all lighting accessories are securely fastened to the lights.
  • Make sure all cables are taped to the floor.
  • When using lights on stands and/or the ground make sure all cast and crew are aware of them.
  • When using ladders there needs to be two people.
  • When working overhead the stage area needs to be clear.

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