Dodgy stage + Wind = Here we go again

Recently we have had another stage collapse in Cleveland County,  North Carolina, USA. According to a news report, quoted below a gust of wind toppled the stage structure. There was thankfully no loss of life. The stage roof was made from Genie lifts. This structure was built by the production company L & N Productions Inc. Below are some images from this event.

Cleveland County Stage Collapse

Cleveland County Stage Collapse

Productions, Inc

From an article at WSOCTV:

“CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. —

A stage collapsed at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds on Saturday night.

No one was hurt in the collapse at the fairgrounds, but the accident is forcing organizers to make some big changes.

Just hours before a concert was set to start at the Cleveland County Fairground, a gust of wind ripped through, toppling a stage.

An organizer said it happened when the stands were still empty, and no one was hurt.

More than 10,000 people were expected to show up for the American Legion World Series concerts. Saturday’s lineup featured Christian artists, Mercy Me, Aaron Shust and the Afters. The show was cancelled Saturday.

Organizers said they did not want to take any chances with safety.

The wind ripped down part of the stage that held the overhead lighting and there was too much damage to fix before showtime.

The Afters tweeted a picture of the stage saying, “Scary moment today. The stage collapsed as we were sound checking. Thankful to God that we are all ok.”

Again weather was a factor in this collapse, but it was not the only factor it seems. The promoter of course would like you to believe that the weather was in fact the cause of the stage collapse. In fact in a statement from the promoters in the Charlotte Observer published on the 11th August 2013:

“The weather, not faulty construction, caused a stage to collapse at the Cleveland County fairgrounds on Saturday, an official with the American Legion, which was sponsoring the event, said Sunday.

MercyMe, a popular Christian band, was expected to perform in front of more than 10,000 fans Saturday night as part of American Legion’s World Series concerts, which lead up to the tournament that runs Aug. 16-20 in Shelby.

But the temporary stage collapsed about 4 p.m. during the band’s sound check. The audience had not begun to arrive, and no one was injured, said Eddie Holbrook, co-chair of the local American Legion World Series committee.

“We knew we were going to get what looked like scattered showers and nothing real bad,” Holbrook said. “Then all of a sudden, within a five-minute span, the winds shifted and immediately there was a severe weather storm alert.”

He added that the company that built the stage, L&N Productions, is “extremely reputable” and has worked on concerts for national artists across the Southeast.

“We didn’t have any concern whether these people had taken any shortcuts,” he said. “We’re attributing it all to the weather.”

Fans were not inside the fairgrounds at the time of the collapse because the gate and ticket sales office weren’t scheduled to open for another 30 minutes.”

Well the general consensus from a lot of reliable industry people is that the set up was in fact at fault. They are saying that the stage had collapsed before the really strong winds had arrived. If the stage had been built correctly it should not have come down like it did.  Also from the JimOnLight site:

“From an official who spoke with JimOnLight.com and was not authorized to speak publicly on the collapse, a touring professional involved with production and NOT associated with L&N Productions:

“The stage was down well before those alleged ’70 mph winds’ hit.  It didn’t take much to knock that thing over.  The roof was picked with spansets…not properly.  The up and down stage double hung was with what looked like truck straps.  The genies didn’t have outriggers – but just the stabilizers.  And the straps they had ‘holding it down’ didn’t make sense.  And, for the record, the seats they had set up were for about 2000-2500 tops. Not the 10,000 the news was reporting.””

The equipment that was used in the construction fo the stage was not used in the correct manner. If you look at the photos carefully of this stage collapse you will see that they used a Genie Superlift to hold the roof in place. In fact thanks to Jim Hutchison from Jim on Light who posted information about the Genie lift that was used by the company in question, the Genie Tower Safety Manual  states quite categorically that:

Do not operate the machine in strong or gusty winds. Increasing the load surface area will decrease machine stability in windy conditions. Do not leave a load raised when windy conditions may occur unless the machine(s) are properly guy-wired.”

So using Genies to support a roof turns the whole thing into a large sail. Now the roof appears not to have any ballast arrangement. It seems to me Genie Lifts are not the right sort of equipment to support any roof type structure whichs to to have been held on with ratchet straps. There was no evidence in the pictures of any form of ballast and guy wires.This company is still doing these types of events and the company seems to have no regard for the safety of crews, artists or the general public. Especially as this stage seems to be typical of their normal practise. Now surely the crew working on the event must have realised that this is not thr roght way to do things, they must have been aware of other recent stage collapses and known something of the reasons they went down.

So was anyone in a responsible position doing a regular weather watch? If there was someone watching the weather why was the stage not cleared and the structure lowered. Why were Genie lifts and ratchet straps used for holding yup the roof structure. If you actually look at the company that was responsible for building this stage you will notice that in a lot of their pictures they construct stages in a similar manner.

What does this mean for us?

So when it seems the message is getting out there about unsafe structures and shows being cancelled this has to happen. So how do safety authorities get the message to everyone? Do events need to be “licensed” and an independent inspector go out and make sure that all is okay. I know a lot of productions these days are putting in the extra work, money and time to make sure that their events will happen without a hitch.  Speaking for Australia, which is where I am based we also need to look at all of these type of events where stages are built in the great outdoors. The bigger events often have budgets and are more likely to be under scrutiny but what about the smaller events? Are we getting the message through to small groups that do events such as Christmas Carols, fundraising concerts etc. How about the more isolated parts of the country. Or the local Lions or APEX groups that stage events? How do we make sure that they know what is wxpected of them, what they need to look for in a production company, where to look or ask for information on staging events. This is a ongoing problem that is slowly being address by a variety of different groups around Australia, but there does not always seem to be any cross-pollination of ideas. I know that Live Performance Australia is looking into these types of matters. There is the Event Safety Alliance also studying this matters as well. SAo we all need to be vigilant and constantly updating our knowledge. We need to always monitor what is happening in the industry and learn from it. Do not have the atitude“it won’t happen to me” .  Also make sure you are getting the up to date information from reliable sources, none of this I saw it on the web. Industry bodies are the source of good information. Even government bodies can have relevant information and in many cases will offer useful advice or point you in the right direction. Never be afraid to question something if it does not look right. If you think you are being asked to do something that seems dangerous you do have the right to question and refuse to do the task. We all want to go home in one piece at the end of the day, tired but satisfied we have done a good job.

I would like to thank Jim Hutchison for allowing me use of material from his website.

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