Rigging inspections: A great way to boost business and safety

When Syracuse Scenery vice president Frank Willard got the call to inspect a rigging system in an upstate New York school auditorium, he knew the system had a problem—but he didn't expect the extensive damage he found there.

“It was a crashed set, where the operator used the system incorrectly and almost killed himself,” he said. “It was a facility rented to a local dance group. They had one technician stripping out the lighting fixtures they'd rented, and he was working alone. He operated the system completely inappropriately, and crashed the set in both directions. Counterweights spilled out of the arbor, and a weight missed him by just a few inches. The pipe came down and actually ripped the cables out of the junction box on the end of the batten.”

Luckily for the theatre owner, Syracuse Scenery had the knowledge and the technical skill to replace the damaged system. The inspection turned into a positive experience for the dealer as well as for the customer: The theatre owner's system became operable again, and Syracuse Scenery got the installation job.

Rigging inspections have become good business for the company, Willard reported. Many of the inspections performed by Syracuse lead to sales of rigging equipment, with the accompanying labor and installation fees. “We get called to do an inspection and find that there's a lack of any repair and maintenance for years, sometimes for decades,” he said. “It's a broad spectrum—we see a lot of rigging systems that were installed in the 1930s, forties, fifties and sixties that had no maintenance and repair work done since they were installed. People think these systems can be installed and forgotten, but they need to be updated, just like any other mechanical system.”

These updates and repairs help schools and other venues keep their students, volunteers and staff members safer backstage—and the inspections give dealers the opportunity to reconnect with clients for the common good.

Spotting and removing potential dangers

Beyond incidents where real damage occurred, the on-site inspection provides a chance to educate the customer about the rigging system and the safety issues involved in lifting heavy scenery, lights and drapes over people's heads. The inspection becomes a wake-up call for the customer, as the dealer recommends repair or replacement of damaged sets—and removes any household chains, clips, and other components that are not rated for overhead use.

“We see inappropriate equipment installed by people who do temporary rigging because that's what they had to do to get the show up,” Willard said. “It's not properly sized or load-rated. We feel that if we're on a stage and we see something that's a potential hazard, it's incumbent upon us to tell someone that situation exists.”

School administrators and theatre owners also should be told if the rigging system is the right one for the auditorium and the building. School boards often take the low bid for construction projects, so the system in place may lack some operating and safety features.

“For example, counterweight systems often are installed with no loading bridge, a situation we consider dangerous,” said Tom Young, vice president of marketing for J. R. Clancy, Inc., the nation's leading theatre rigging manufacturer. “There also may be issues with the capacity of the building's structural steel, and its ability to support the rigging's weight once the battens are loaded.”

When the structure can't handle the load, a full replacement of the system may be required—even if it's a fairly new building with a modern motorized rigging system.

“You can't assume that a system installed a few years ago was installed properly, or that the equipment used was appropriate for that venue,” said Willard. “You also don't know how it was operated. Every system needs to be inspected.”

While it may seem daunting to convince schools and theatres in a dealer's geographic area that they need a rigging inspection, there is support for this on the horizon: Some insurance companies have begun to require schools to perform annual inspections and maintenance of their rigging. School boards are more eager to make the repairs when they realize that liability issues may be involved.

Safety is good business

“We get asked, ‘How do you phase the installation? Can we just replace the cable?'” said Willard. “We tell them that if you just replace the cable, it has no bearing on the blocks that are the wrong size. It's like a car—you can replace the tires and the wipers, but if it has a bad engine, what good does it do you?”

Inspections offer broader opportunities beyond the rigging itself, he added. “Rigging inspections get you in the door, so you get to look at other things. You can see if the lighting system has some problems, or if the fire curtain doesn't meet code. You can help the customer and your business by keeping your eyes open.”

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