What If You See Something That You Can't Ignore?

What If You See Something That You Can't Ignore?

CX 90 Staging What If

Stage Engineering is a discipline where advances in technology over the last few decades have made it possible to design, install and operate machinery that is significantly more reliable and safe than back in the “bow and arrow” days.

Safety instrumentation (e.g. high reliability limit switches, position encoders and load cells) and motor control technology (e.g. inverters, switchgear and brakes) have seen a steady reduction in cost at the same time as precision and reliability have been consistently improving.

Combine this with staggering advances in computer and communications (networking) technology and we now have the ability to install and operate highly sophisticated stage machinery with a degree of precision, safety and reliability that we could only dream of a generation ago.

At the same time as the technology has been developing, we have seen a maturing of the relevant Standards and Codes of Practice (albeit lagging somewhat behind the technology) and an increasing awareness of Workplace Safety and Risk Management has seen a Legislative Environment that is generally keeping up with the technology and remaining relevant.

No matter how advanced the technology becomes, however, there is probably going to be a place for a well designed, maintained and operated, good old-fashioned counterweight system in the world of theatre, at least for the foreseeable future.

This type of installation was phased out, by legislation, in The Netherlands, and if the stories we hear from our overseas colleagues are true, there is a general decline in the level of “First Principles” skills in that part of the world because flymen and riggers are no longer “cutting their teeth” on these systems.

While it is in our interests to promote the use of high technology in theatres and performance spaces, we are also supporters of the more basic (cheaper) forms of theatrical technology, provided they are installed, maintained and used in a safe manner.

So when a colleague who was recently at a suburban “Civic” style theatre venue on business unrelated to Stage Machinery saw this little “accident waiting to happen” and came back with photographs, we had quite a debate as to our legal and ethical obligations.

What If Something You Can't Ignore 

While we all agreed that we had an ethical obligation to point out to the venue operator that this is unsafe and needs to be urgently remedied, our legal obligations were unclear, so we put in a call to our friendly local WHS inspector for some guidance.

The advice we received was that if we have employees or contractors on the site and they are exposed to this hazard, then we have an obligation to remove or redeploy them away from the hazard, attempt to have the venue operator remedy the hazard and if this were unsuccessful, to report the issue to the local WHS authority, but as we did not have staff exposed, then we have no legal obligation to report it.

That was about it as far as legal obligations are concerned, so we had to content ourselves with informing the venue of our safety concerns in writing and urging them to take immediate steps to remedy the situation.

It’s “practices” like these that contribute to a viable and tested technology being banned outright.

Let’s hope that this is a rare enough occurrence in Australia that we don’t end up with the Dutch Solution.

Jands Staging provide articles to the "Staging What If" section in CX Magazine. If you have any questions regarding this article then please comment below or email info@jands.com.au.

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