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Maintenance and Safe Use of Equipment in Live Events Production

Taking all reasonable steps to ensure your own safety - as well as the safety of anyone else who is likely to be affected by what you do - is a legal requirement.

Live events always involve both production personnel and the general public, and require vigilance from everyone on the production side. Regardless of what anyone else is doing about risk management, your own efforts should be to:

Removal or elimination is the primary objective: only look at reducing a hazard or risk if it cannot be eliminated.

Hazards are anything that may cause harm.

Risk is the likelihood of harm being caused.

In other words:

An example might be where lighting crew will need to work above the stage. A hazard is something - tools or equipment - falling onto someone working underneath, and the likelihood of it happening is a risk. Designating the stage a hard-hat area reduces the potential harm (reduces the hazard). Keeping the stage clear of all personnel while overhead work is in progress reduces the risk. Both enforcing hard-hat use and restricting access during overhead work are important risk-management steps.

Most live productions present a variety of potential hazards and risks. Probably the easiest way to identify these (and get some perspective on your priorities) is to carry out a Risk Assessment. If you don't know how to go about this, there is a straightforward explanation of Risk Assessment on the HSE website. You also can find a document template there if you need one, or use our example risk assessment as a starting point.

Larger and/or more complex productions may also call for a Method Statement. Essentially this is a description of what you are planning to do, and how and when you will carry it out. If several people or organisations are involved, it should also detail who will be responsible for each task (and, where relevant, to whom they are answerable). A method statement does not have to be long, complicated, or excessively detailed (indeed, its main purpose is as a reference document for all parties, so clarity and brevity are important).

As far as touring productions are concerned, the main everyday considerations are for:

Manual Handling

To get equipment in and out of a venue safely, you may need to think about:

Electrical Safety

The electricity supply itself must be safe (i.e. earthed, breaker-protected, and adequate for the load placed on it). One way to extend power‑supply safety is to use 30mA Residual Current Detectors (RCDs) at every 230V 13A mains outlet. These are available - often for less than £10 - from any DIY store (as well as from many high-street retailers). A particular advantage of these is that they work by comparing the current on the outgoing (live) and return (neutral) conductors, so offer some protection even where the earth connection to a socket is compromised.

Also, all portable electrical equipment should be regularly inspected and checked for electrical safety. Where that equipment is used in a workplace or public area, maintaining it in a safe condition is a legal requirement. A live event is both a workplace and a public area.

The most common method of checking equipment is safe is the Portable Appliance Test (also known - employing a redundant recursive - as the PAT Test). One part of the test - which requires a calibrated tester and someone who knows how to use it - checks two things: that the equipment casing is electrically isolated from mains circuits, and (in the case of earthed equipment) that the earth connection is sound. The other part of the test is a visual inspection. A calibrated tester may reveal invisible faults, but there should be NO visible faults. Far more faults are found by inspection than by testing, so visual inspection is important, and doesn't require specialist equipment. If you can see something wrong with it DO NOT USE IT. Even minor visual flaws should not be overlooked: if the indicator neon on a mains distribution board has failed, its safety has been compromised (anyone who didn't know the light had failed might wrongly assume that it was not live).

You should always have your eye open for obviously unsafe equipment - whoever owns or is in charge of it - in your own area of work. Common easily visible faults are:

Other points that are relatively easy to check are:

While Portable Appliance Tests and certificates are not a legal requirement, they are evidence - often the only satisfactory evidence - that equipment has been adequately maintained. Look after your equipment, and get it tested regularly. Electricity can kill.

Another good reason to get your equipment tested - if protecting yourself and other people from electrocution and/or legal action is not enough - is that test certificates are required by most public bodies (schools, colleges, hospitals, local authorities...) for all equipment brought onto their premises. An increasing number of privately-owned venues and businesses apply the same standard, and this trend is set to continue. In many venues, no certificate means you don't get to plug it in, however safe you think it is.

Our own equipment is routinely inspected and tested, and certificate copies are available on request. However, we do not provide or bring certificates with us unless we are asked (although all our equipment is pass-labelled). If the venue requires certificate copies we need to know before we set out.

Also (obviously?), our own certificates do not cover any third-party equipment unless we have tested it. Where certificates are required, they will also be required for the band's electrical equipment (amplifiers, keyboards, extension leads). If you need to plug it in to make it work, you need a certificate for it. If the show must go on, get it tested.

At outdoor events, any cable connectors that may be exposed to rain, dew, or other sources of moisture should be at least splash-proof (IP44), and preferably even more watertight (the second digit in the IP rating should be 5 or higher). Don't use ordinary 13A plugs and sockets in the rain in the middle of an open field.

Positioning and Connecting Equipment

After electricity the most obvious dangers come from cables or other objects - notably the legs of stands - creating a trip hazard, or from equipment that is insecurely stacked or suspended.

Trip hazards are often a common-sense matter. However, if it hasn't already occurred to you:

Speakers are often stacked, raised on stands, or flown. Lighting - with the exception of uplighters - is always raised, and usually flown. Flown systems should only ever be suspended from certified load-bearing mounting-points by qualified personnel. If a speaker or lantern falls 4 metres into a crowded auditorium it will probably kill someone. If you need us - or anyone else - to fly a system of ours at your event, speak to us about it before hiring it.

However, more people are injured (and more equipment is damaged) by stacks or stands collapsing or falling over than by flown equipment falling.

Particular hazards in this respect are:

Other stacked equipment - like a mixing console or effects rack - needs the same attention. Our 12U effects rack weighs over 50Kg. Wobbly domestic tables are not suitable for this kind of equipment. We can provide our own stands and tables for this, but if you are hiring a system from us, please let us know beforehand if we need to bring them.

Loud Noises

While the event itself may call for hearing protection - either as a legal requirement, or because it is advisable anyway (see the Sound Advice website for a comprehensive guide on noise in music and entertainment) - there are also risks during set-up: production crew may be working near loudspeakers, and the full output of a 134dB/1m speaker feeding back when someone un-mutes a channel at the desk can do permanent damage in no time at all to the ear that is less than a foot away from it.

Also, it is quite common during sound-check for technical crew to be needed on stage, where monitor levels (usually determined by the musicians) may be higher than advisable even for short periods of exposure.

Generally, therefore, it is good practice for anyone involved where there is a risk of high sound pressure levels to wear some form of hearing protection. In addition, however, setting up should be planned so that:

Other Safety Issues

Where there are a lot of people, you may need to think about crowd-control and First-Aid.

Crowd-control may require physical restraints (barriers, fences and gates) and/or personnel (stewards or security staff). First-Aid requires one or more staff with a recognised First-Aid qualification.

Even if it doesn't do much to reduce the hazard or the risk, you should ALWAYS do whatever you can. If there was something you could have done that was better than nothing, the first thing any investigating authority will ask after an incident is why - knowing that - you did nothing.

See Also...

The Event Safety section of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website