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Theatre Rigging Systems Should Be Inspected Annually

By Dana W. Taylor on April 16, 2019 hst Print

A beautiful auditorium is a point of pride for any school. Whether serving as a central gathering point for school activities or the largest available venue for community events, it satisfies both an educational mission and a civic need. Indeed, concern about the cost of a new facility is often mitigated by the promise of architectural beauty and “state of the art” equipment.

Schools are to be applauded for providing great venues for their students and community. However, once the ribbon cutting is over, the real work of maintaining the facility begins.

Each facility has maintenance needs that fall into one of three categories:

  1. General maintenance typically addressed by the custodial staff.
  2. Ongoing maintenance pertaining to building infrastructure, which includes HVAC, plumbing, electrical and compliance with safety codes (fire prevention, suppression systems).
  3. Venue-specific elements including safety, lighting and audio systems, scene shop, stage floor, and stage rigging systems.

In the first two categories, most administrators and school personnel have a reasonable understanding of likely procedures and expectations regarding use and maintenance; the same might be said for several of the venue-specific items. Stage rigging, however, is not on most people’s radar and is one of the last things considered when planning ongoing theatre maintenance. And there is likely no one in your building or school district who has the expertise to maintain rigging systems, to recognize potential problems, and to train staff and students in their proper use.

Where to Begin

Stage rigging (counterweight rigging) describes the mechanisms used to lower and raise the pipes over the stage. These pipes (battens) carry stage lights, curtains, acoustical shells and sometimes scenery. Rigging maintenance begins with an inspection by a qualified inspector.

According to the American National Standards Institute’s document ANSI E1.47: Recommended Guidelines for Entertainment Rigging Inspections (2017), “The inspector should have a minimum of five years or 10,000 hours of experience including a combination of entertainment rigging systems design, engineering, inspection, installation, maintenance, service, repair, modification and functional testing. Typically, experience only in system operation will not provide suitable experience to inspect entertainment rigging systems.” (ANSI E1.47 is currently under public review in an effort to provide greater clarity; however, recommendations as a whole have not changed.)

The ANSI recommendation is that all rigging systems should be inspected annually, a Level 1 inspection that focuses on those system elements that are easily accessed by an inspector. In addition to checking all components of the system, the inspector will look for appropriate signage regarding system-weight capacities and safety/warning signage. The inspector will also ask for the facility logbook (written record of rigging issues, inspections, repairs), crew training documentation and documents pertaining to flame retardancy of all stage curtains.

Following the inspection, the user will receive a written inspection report on the condition of the system, notification of issues and recommended remedies. The inspector will not do any repairs. For motorized rigging, a Level 2 inspection is recommended each year.

Level 2 inspections are more thorough and are recommended every five years, unless the date of the last inspection cannot be determined or equipment has been newly installed, altered or repaired. In those instances, the first inspection will be a Level 2. The Level 2 inspection will likely necessitate the availability of a man lift and will include all elements of a Level 1 inspection, plus a thorough look at those less readily accessible elements of your system.

Cost

Inspection costs vary based on the type and complexity of your system and your proximity to a qualified inspector. You should expect to pay for the inspection and travel costs (transportation, hotel and per diem) for the inspector. The author’s latest Level 1 inspection (Spring 2018) was $2,300 and included two hotel nights, airfare and a one-day inspection of his 17-line set manual counterweight system.

Assistance with the expense of rigging inspections is available from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology’s (USITT) Rigging Safety Initiative. Secondary schools may apply twice each year for a grant covering the cost of the inspection. In some instances, where a recognized inspector is nearby, the grant may cover the entire cost of the inspection. For more information, visit www.usitt.org. The grant also covers four hours of training for up to eight staff members and students.

Risk Management, Liability and Protecting Your Investment

Although many rigging accidents can be attributed to user error, rigging inspections should be added to your school risk management and accident prevention programs. With regard to liability, ignorance is not a legally defensible position. Annual inspections, and acting on the inspector’s recommendations may mitigate potential liability should there be an accident. Likewise, ongoing training for school staff and students further shows the school’s desire to protect users and audiences.

Rigging is an expensive part of your school’s auditorium. Consequently, inspections, maintenance and training not only protect your students, staff and audiences but your investment as well.

Additional Standards, Rules and Resources

ANSI E 1.47: Recommended Guidelines for Entertainment Rigging System Inspections http://mvhsfinearts.com/e1-47

ANSI E1.4-2014 section 5.2.2.1 Installed systems shall be inspected annually or more frequently, as determined by a qualified person, per the manufacturer’s recommendations and local code requirements.

OSHA 1926.1501(a)(6) A thorough, annual inspection of the hoisting machinery shall be made by a competent person, or by a government or private agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. The employer shall maintain a record of the dates and results of inspections for each hoisting machine and piece of equipment.

The International Building Code (IBC) Section 20.9.1 The rigging system shall be inspected annually. Section 20.9.1.1 The annual rigging inspection shall be performed by a qualified person.

ANSI standards for entertainment technology have been developed by the Entertainment Services and Technology Association and their Technical Standards Program (TSP). The standards may be downloaded free of charge at www.esta.org.

System operation manuals and warning signage may be downloaded free of charge from www.jrclancy.com.

A list of USITT approved rigging inspectors can be found at: https://www.usitt.org/rsi/.