Go behind the scenes and it’s job safety that should take top honours at the Grammy Awards every year and for very good reason!
Most live theatrical productions aren’t seen as being a venue where the safety of workers could be threatened. In British Columbia, the hazard rating for theatres often sits at “C”, representing any condition or practice with a probable potential for causing a non-disabling injury or non-disruptive property damage. In plain English, it’s not terribly dangerous and you probably won’t have any life threatening injuries working there. However, when a large-scale event, such as The Grammys, is produced, the hazard rating escalates to “B”, representing the likelihood of conditions or practices with the potential for causing a serious injury, illness of property damage. Meaning, put safety first or else you could hurt someone very badly.
The thing about The Grammys is that it’s a once a year event. Therefore, the majority of sets, the lighting, audio and crew are temporary. Up one day and gone the next. Because much of the equipment and labour aren’t native to the venue, there’s a greater than normal chance that something could go wrong.
The technical producer is often the person in charge of overseeing safety. They ensure the bulletin board with the call sheets has information where to locate First Aid and meetings to advise crew and talent on potential hazards. The technical producer will also rely on crews that arrive on behalf of the lighting or audio equipment companies to install and ensure the rigging is secure. When a show is in production, one video wall suspended above the stage could weigh as much as 1500lbs.
In Canada, basic safety standards for theatre fall under provincial jurisdictions, and much of those rules are derived from the same workplace safety rules that all workplaces subscribe to. Luckily most provinces have documents that outline the rules and how they apply to theatre. British Columbia has ActSafe, Alberta has Safe Stages and Ontario has the Ministry of Labour, Performance Industry. This is where technical directors can go to find the most up to date information with tips to keep worker’s safe.
The most unique aspect of safety on a theatrical production lies in the dark. When a show is on, backstage has very little to no lighting for the crew. In order to prevent disabling falls, common best practices include:
- glow tape on stairs
- walkways taped off to ensure they are kept clear
- cables covered in mats
Exit signs are also critical when it comes to safety and should be clearly identifiable and clearly marked. They should swing in the direction of exit travel and must be kept clear at all times.
Obviously, with any event in the music industry, sound levels are crucial to consider because long exposure can result in hearing loss. A live concert could be as loud as 160 decibels, which is often double what is legislated as being safe.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, no worker should be exposed to levels louder than 100 decibels for more than 15 minutes. With audio crews working in the environment for 8-14 hour days, some industry practices include having earplugs on hand, ensuring minors aren’t exposed and that performers use in-ear monitors to reduce noise levels and increase clarity.
When it comes down to safety at large, one-night only events such as The Grammys, safety is a careful production. While the technical producer often oversees the overall safety big picture, it is mutual trust among the crew that ensures that rigging is secure and laneways are clear. Because when it comes down to it, people might say “Break a leg” before a big show, but no one actually wants that to happen!