By Stephen Dean with assistance from James Feenstra (Toronto based technician).
With yet another death happening due to a stage collapse in Toronto. We are again discussing what happened, how did it happen and how can we prevent this from happening. At the moment we can only speculate on what or who failed to cause this tragic event. There are many stories going around about the fact the roofing structure was old and should not have been used. Or human errors – someone had forgotten to tighten up a clamp, so until the investigation is over we need to not speculate but think of a way of moving forward. What does seem apparently different is the fact that the structure was made from scaffolding, not pre-built roofing truss.
What has happened in Toronto is going to have major implications not only for to Canada but to the whole industry worldwide. Here in Australia we have been lucky, but we need to become proactive in looking after safety and preventing disasters where there is a loss of life. We have to get in there and do the hard yards to make our safer than it even has been. We need to change our thinking. One thing that is going to change is the cost of insurance for staging outdoor events , this is according to James a Toronto based technician that I have spoken to. James is experienced in this area and he believes that things need to tighten up. Maybe mandatory certification of all rigging/staging equipment every 6 months or so. One of James observations was that a lot of these structures May get used and then stored without checking on the quality/ wear of the components used.
“As with anything they’re only as strong as their weakest link, and one bad cross brace in the wrong spot can cause this kind of accident.”
Let us reflect on the changes that we have seen over the years. Productions have grown in size immensely. There are more lights, speakers systems are flown, set pieces are flown from temporary roofs, hey we even give the performers roofs to protect them from the elements. But all of this adds stress and load on the temporary structure that has been built. In the early days we ground stack the speakers, hung a whole bunch of par cans and away we went. These days we have video screens. moving lights that way a bit more than the humble parcan, flown speakers. There is often motorised truss pieces. These are not the only pressures that are involved, because of the size of the production and the need to get a return on the investment the time needed to set up these events in compressed into too few hours. The enormous amounts of equipment that have to be trucked around quickly and then set up quickly has grown.
So we now need to change how we think, it is no longer the old days and doing it the old ways. We have to change to meet these new challenges, we have to educate ourselves and others on the correct and safe way to do jobs. We have to look out for each other. We need to feel secure in asking the hard questions of the designers and engineers of the structures. But it not just the artist or audience we need to look after we need to look after the crews that are spending the long tiring hours putting together these event. We are now a more mature industry that needs to have a mature approach to safety. If we think something is not right speak up. This recently happened at a ZZ Top concert, Roland Castillo the head rigger for the tour. This show was called off because of the unsafe stage and rigging/roof conditions. This could have been another disaster but due to Roland’s diligence it was averted. The key here is to Speak Up, he did and was supported by the band and crew.
Do we need to make sure all elements of a production are rigorously tested and certified capable of the task that we ask of them. Do we need to make sure that the engineer that signs off on the structure has made allowances for any variables like weather? Do we need a test and tag situation for stage structures? How many companies regularly inspect their truss and staging elements, especially some of the smaller companies.
Who do we assign to make that all important decision that the show will not go ahead?
We have to start asking ourselves and others the tough questions. We need to keep on being safe and implement safe work protocols with in our industry. We need to do it as we do actually have an understanding of the issues.
All comments and discussion are welcome, we are in this together. You and I want to arrive home alive.