Wes Jenkins, Senior Partner, Down Stage Right Industries Ltd
Now that I have your attention, I want to briefly share my thoughts on rigging inspections and best practices.
Rigging inspections are required by various provincial, national, and international codes and standards as well as responding to industry best practices. They reduce the risk of equipment failure, injuries, and death. Rigging inspections should be an annual procedure to ensure that the system works reliably every time, every show. So why don’t we do them? Because there is no budget? No time? Because the system is working fine and looks ok? Because they are boring?
For all those very same reasons above my neighbour didn’t do the maintenance on her furnace, consequentially the furnace filter was never changed. The furnace continued to run fine, until one winter’s day, it stopped due to a lack of airflow. It was 30 below that week and the plants and pipes in her house froze.
No time, no money, boring, or was this a lack of planning? It was simply inevitable; unmaintained equipment will break. Loose screws and bolts need to be tightened, tires need air, oil and filters need to be changed and rigging needs to be inspected. We don’t question the requirement for passenger and freight elevators’ annual inspections. But how would you feel knowing the elevator hasn’t been inspected in a few years? Translating that into our industry, how do you feel about hanging something or someone from rigging that hasn’t been inspected in a year, five years, ever?
Part of the price of admission to the game of running a theatre, like insurance premiums and utilities, is the maintenance and inspection of critical equipment, like elevators and rigging. It is simply the price of ownership. You can’t run an elevator without inspection, and you can’t open your doors without insurance. Why would you skip rigging inspections? What’s the budget for a lost show, the increased insurance premiums, or flowers for our colleague laid up in the hospital? What is the price of a sound night’s sleep? Priceless.
Who can do this work? In the case of my neighbour, she could have done it herself or she could have brought someone in. The same holds true for our rigging systems; we can either do it ourselves or we can bring in someone from outside. Ideally, the house crew knows best what they have used and or taken to the limits in the system, and where to look for potential problems. You can also have someone do this work for you. The benefit of having an outside agent look at your furnace or your rigging systems is that they will look at things you do not. They might see that not only are your filters clogged but you have a broken heat exchanger and a CO2 leak that is slowly poisoning you. They bring the knowledge, tools, neutrality, and time that you do not have.
How often should inspections be done? Like changing the furnace filter or your car’s oil there are many variables based on the degree of use and the critical nature. For most rigging applications annual inspections work well, while for life-critical elements of rigging, like those of a circus, aerialist, or silk act, daily inspection before use is standard. Fire curtains are by code required to have a documented test every 90 days.
The inspections and the resulting documentation are there to show your insurance agent, the WCB, or WorkSafeBC
inspector that yes, you do have a system in place for critical equipment maintenance. Critical? Yes, critical. You have thousands of pounds of speakers, scenery, and lights hung over performers who are worth millions of dollars. The fire curtain is your last line of defence against losing half of a theatre rather than the entire facility with the people in it.
What is the best practice? In my mind, internal inspections are done annually by the house crew preparing a signed written report that is filed with the system’s drawings and specifications, along with a log of all tests, repairs, and modifications done to the system. These internal inspections are followed up by an externally lead inspection every 3-5 years, bringing a separate set of eyes to the table. This history and documentation can show what was done over the years as you plan for repairs or upgrades, and it can show trends that can help identify problems and point to solutions.
How do we achieve this best practice? We need to plan and budget for an annual inspection and repairs in terms of materials, time, and labour. Now, while you’re thinking of it, go book that filter change.
This article was written for our quarterly newsletter, Safety Scene. You can find a link to the full edition below.