Theatre lighting is a dangerous profession. Working with suspended, heavy lights in a dark atmosphere with high-voltage electricity poses a number of hazards to your health and safety. Through the years, lighting design workers have developed a number of procedures and regulations to help protect themselves, the crew and the actors from injury due to fire, electrocution or falling lights.
As with most accidents, the majority of theatre accidents could have been prevented with proper safety procedure. A common injury in theatre lighting design is head injury due to falling lights. A theatre lighting rig is heavy, and at the height they are hung, a falling light can kill you if it falls on you. All lights must be properly secured by a qualified theatre technician who knows how to properly hang the light. All lights must be double-checked for safety and tethered to the lighting rig with a safety cable.
Call and Response
Because the lights are at greatest risk of falling when the lighting rig is being moved or worked on, make sure that your crew is clear before moving the lighting rig. A standard procedure in theatre lighting is to have a call-and-response with your crew whenever you move the light rigging. Each time, before moving the lights, call out to your crew to make sure they are out of the way. Because theatre work is often dark, you need to call out to your crew even if you think no one is there, just to make sure. Similar procedures can be used when using a forklift or when moving onstage lighting fixtures.
Many deaths have occurred in theatre as a result of avoidable fire deaths. Theatre lights burn hot on their own, and the lenses used in the lights can magnify the heat. Make sure that you only use professional equipment to modify your lights; using other materials to rig lighting colours or change the shape of the light can put you at risk for fire. Though it is an artistic choice of the lighting designer, it is never a good idea to use an open flame onstage. Make sure that any sources of heat, such as very hot lights, are placed well clear of anything that could ignite, including paper, plastic and flammable furniture. Theatre lighting uses a lot of electricity, and the risk of electrocution is high. Lighting equipment must be checked regularly for worn areas and exposed wire that might put a lighting worker at risk for electrocution or fire ignited by electricity.
When an emergency occurs, your theatre lighting crew must know exactly what to do to minimise damage and injury. Fire, chemical, prop and shop rules must be in place to guide your workers in the event of an accident. First-aid procedures are a must, especially in theatre work where the risk of injury is a constant threat. Have a fully stocked first-aid kit on hand, and make sure your workers all know where it is and how to use the contents of the kit.
Prompt attention to reported hazards is the cornerstone of maintaining a safe theatre lighting environment. Maintain an open door with regards to safety hazards, and take all reported safety issues seriously. Theatre lighting workers are responsible for their own safety and the safety around them, so you must ensure that all safety hazards are reported promptly and fixed thoroughly.