Saturday, October 31, 2015

Helmets - Protecting your noggin at a fraction of the price of brain surgery

Typical 4-point suspension
ANSI type I protection
Traditional hard-hats used by construction workers aren't much more than a skid lid to keep your hair on your scalp.  That isn't to say it isn't a good thing, especially for us 'folically challenged' folks.  However, when you flip one of these over and study the inside you suddenly realize that the shock absorption mechanism is anything more than a few nylon ribbons that are supposed to 'predictably' fail and take some of the wham! out of the slam!-bam! of a falling object.

There is no joy in scraping your skull along the bottom of a low-lying air duct, sprinkler pipe, or cross-bracing steel.  The pain is excruciating, and dripping blood from the catwalk is poor manners.

A few years ago, well actually ALOT of years ago, helmet manufacturers realized that adding a layer of crushable foam (typically styrofoam) to the inside of a helmet would increase the energy dissipation significantly.  We first saw this technology applied to motorcycle and auto racing helmets, and then to bicycle helmets.  It eventually made its way into rock climbing helmets, and from there into the world of construction helmets.
KASK Super Plasma Helmet interior view - ANSI type II protection.
Note the two layers of padding:  both Styrofoam and a fabric covered foam cushion.

Conventional hard hat with 4-point chin strap
Although you can buy accessory chin straps for cheap hard-hats, the chin straps don't always stay attached, they are difficult to find and buy, and they frequently cost more than the hard-hat itself.  In the theatre and show production industry we seem to spend a lot of time either bent over (hold the jokes please . . .) or working at height.  Both of these work situations demand that your PPE remain secured to your person.  You don't want you hard-hat falling into the scenery that you are painting, and you don't want it to fall from the truss or catwalk you are working upon.  Either way, when your hard-hat departs your head you are exposing yourself to injury AND you may be exposing the inattentive and unwilling participant below you to the full impact of your helmet on their head.  Hopefully, they are wearing some head protection, too!

Single chin strap accessory
So, if you drop you helmet to the stage floor below, will it damage it?  Yes, it will.  The next stop for that hard-hat is the dumpster.  You probably can't see the micro-fractures that impact set-up in the plastic, but I'd never trust the helmet to protect my brains again.  So, for a $5 big-box ANSI type I hard-hat, this is no big deal, but when you start wearing a $85-$150 ANSI type II hardhat, then protecting your investment (both your PPE and your brains) is a bit more of a concern.
KASK Super Plasma - ANSI type II protection

Myth:  Rock climbing helmets aren't OSHA compliant.  Any helmet that meets the ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2009 or 2014 standard is acceptable.  It may not look like Bubba's typical construction site hard-hat, but if it meets the standard and is labelled as such, then it's legal.

So, what can yo do to keep a cool head and be stylin' on truss?  Get one of those really protective and 'I'm a professional' looking ANSI type II helmets and wear it!  The two most popular climbing helmets are the Petzl Verex Best and the KASK Super Plasma.  Bright colors are recommended.  If you need to black it out for a show (common for truss follow spotlight operators), just have your costume department sew-up a black spandex cover for it.

Bottom line:  Unless your want your brains to become Zombie food, protect them.  No replacement parts are currently available.

There is no shame in protecting your brain!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Staging Truss System Collapse Kills One, Injures 13

Nanning, China 2015-10-29 - China News reports that during the construction of the stage for an upcoming Jolin Tsai concert the ground supported stage truss system collapsed.  On worker was killed, and 13 other were injured.  On of the injured is in serious condition, while the others only suffered minor injuries.

Truss System Before the Collapse
The incident occurred around 5PM local time at the Guangxi Sports Center Arena.

After the collapse workers assess damage.
Deconstructing a tangled web of steel, aluminum, and stretched cables is a dangerous endeavor - stress in materials can create booby-traps due to spring loading and fractures in components that have not yet fully failed.  Hopefully, the workers doing this are planning their work carefully.

Also note that only three of the workers in the pictures are wearing hardhats.  It is unclear, but likely, that safety shoes are not worn in this construction environment.  Few workers appear to be wearing bright colored clothes, which makes it more difficult to spot staff and avoid collisions.  All of these factors can contribute to further injuries.

This is particularly relevant as this Blogger is scheduled to address the China Stage Design Exhibition in Beijing on November 26th-29th to discuss the development of an Entertainment Safety Initiative similar to the US lead Event Safety Guide developed by the Event Safety Alliance.

Update:  Two more pictures:


Yet another way to learn about Theatre Safety

The Theatrefolk Podcast offers-up a thoughtful piece on Theatre Safety - come and tune-in as Lindsay Price interviews Kristy Ross-Clausen about rigging, emergency egress routes, hand and foot PPE, and flame-proofing.

Theatre Safety Podcast

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ten Things Actors Need To Know About Safety

The Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) serves the High School and College level theatre teachers and students through two publications Dramatics and Teaching Theatre
The Fall 2015 issue of Teaching Theatre features two articles about performer safety that are good resources for your library.  Share them with your staff and students.  The magazine can be found on the EdTA web site ( and a direct link to the PDF download is here.  If you are not a member of EdTA, consider joining to support this organizations great resources.  They also have a Community Open Forum section where members can ask questions share ideas.

Teaching Theatre Fall 2015 Cover

Friday, October 2, 2015

Just like sticking your finger in a light socket - NOT Smart

Fluke, manufacturers of electrical test equipment, has posted a Safety Checklist entitled 10 dumb things smart people do when testing electricity.  This sage advice can save your pork butt from becoming bacon, so download it here: dumb things smart people do when testing electricity.PDF

While you are visiting the Fluke web site, check out their Fluke 1AC-II non-contact voltage detector.  This is the MUST HAVE item in any tool box, as you can place the tip near any stage equipment like microphones, electric guitars, stage lights, etc. and see if maybe the power feed is crossed-up and about to kill some one.  Consider it a pre-emptive strike against death.