Rigging Safety

(Courtesy of the BBC with changes).  

This guidance provides production managers who wish to engage riggers to lift or support production equipment (lighting, sound, audio-visual displays, scrims, set elements, etc.) in event venues with some of the basic rigging safety information they need.

The guidance is therefore mainly concerned with the safety procedures of Rigging in Entertainment and Event Riggers; some aspects of it, however, may be relevant to other rigging disciplines (This should be read in conjunction with other rigging and work at height guidance).

What Can Go Wrong?

  • Falls from height – rigging activities may be performed at height, possibly on incomplete or open structures or ones with limited (or work limiting) fall protection options
  • Falling equipment – production equipment often needs to be lifted or rigged overhead and these may be dropped, incorrectly connected, or the anchor points fail under load
  • Collapse or toppling of structures – this may happen if structural components are overloaded, they are damaged / faulty, adverse weather conditions, inadequate bracing or the ground support gives way
  • Suspension syncope / trauma – life-threatening condition where rescue arrangements fail to be provided quickly enough to a person left motionless when suspended in a harness
  • Electrocution - production equipment may be lifted into place using faulty electrical hoists, connectors or control units; moving equipment may damage flown live electrical equipment.

Legal Requirements

In addition to the general duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, relevant duties are also given by:

  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regs 1998 (PUWER) – equipment is to be suitable and safe to use, meet relevant design and safety standards (including ‘CE’ marked), with workers trained and instructed on using it safely
  • Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regs 1998 (LOLER) – lifting equipment must be of adequate strength and stability, their use properly planned and organised, be uniquely identifiable and subject to routine safety inspection (including thorough examination by a competent person at least once every 12 months, or every 6 months if it is used to lift people); applies also to personal fall protection measures
  • Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regs 2008 – applicable machinery (e.g. chain hoists) must be of adequate strength, meeting relevant design and testing standards with a certificate of conformity issued and the machinery ‘CE’ marked, with control systems ‘failing to safety’, having emergency stop controls, and capable of being maintained for safety
  • Construction (Design and Management) Regs 2015 – places duties on key roles to ensure construction activities are properly planned and organised. This may include some rigging activities, necessitating a Construction Phase Plan to allocate roles / responsibilities and to describe how the work and resources will be planned and organised, from ‘get-in’ to ‘get-out’
  • Work at Height Regs 2005 – all work at height needs to be properly planned and organised, carried out by competent people using an appropriate means of access, with fall prevention and/or fall protection measures where necessary, provision of a suitable rescue plan, with measures taken to prevent objects falling and thereby safeguard those below
  • Electricity at Work Regs 1989 – together with BS 7909 for temporary installations, all electrical equipment must be designed, constructed and maintained so as not to give rise to danger in use, suitably insulated and protected, and any work on them carried out by competent people in a suitable working environment.

Production Managers and or Health and Safety Advisors should monitor the work of rigging teams to ensure the duties placed by these regulations (and expanded upon below) are met in practice 

Control Measures

How to plan for rigging on productions

Rigging jobs stem from a production need, be it to light a stage, fly speakers / AV equipment, or to lift or support a prop or set elements. Whilst competent riggers can make it happen, they need the production team (including Lighting Director, Production Designer, Stage Builders, Production Manager and others) to plan and arrange the following:

  • Scope of work – to include a description of the production need, venue location details, the key contacts and their roles / responsibilities. It should also note any changes / alterations to the rigging which might be required over the production run, for example, due to performance needs
  • Schedule of work – ‘get-in’ and ‘get-out’ dates, rigging period and times, and any pinch-points with regards to access or availability of equipment / services. For the larger more complex rigging jobs, a Construction Phase Plan may be required 
  • Design plans – these need to describe what is to be lifted, their size and weight, their location relative to an agreed reference point or grid plot at the venue, location of relevant services and the path / timing of any items which need to move during performances. They should also specify whether production equipment will be free-standing or will need to be flown from venue structures / rigging points
  • The loads to be lifted – the rigging team need to be informed of the approximate weight of each individual item to be lifted (to +/-5% of its weight). Additionally, any over 20kg should be clearly marked with their weight, their centre of gravity (if this is significantly skewed to one side) and, if it isn’t obvious, from where on the load it should be lifted. Rigging points need to be adequately strong – this won’t be an issue with ‘CE’ marked equipment having integral lifting points, but those who design and build bespoke items (e.g. heavy set elements) may need to arrange for a competent person to verify (possibly through ‘proof load testing’) that rigging points are sufficiently robust
  • Venue rigging points – where production items are to be lifted from the venue’s roof girders, ‘mother’ grid, bars, trusses or single hanging points, the in-house Competent Person (Rigging Manager) should provide to the Rigging Supervisor a plot showing the positions and safe working loads of all hanging points to be used. Their integrity should be confirmed, either through proof loading testing certificates, engineering inspection reports under LOLER or structural engineer reports
  • Means of access – where work at height will likely be required, the preferred method of access should be agreed at an early stage and its impact / constraints allowed for in project plans and schedules
  • Welfare / emergencies / site safety rules – facilities and procedures / risk assessments for these all need to be made available to those who will be working at the venue.

Appointing suitable and competent riggers

Who are you going to appoint to rig your set or lighting? Larger venues / studios may have their own in-house riggers – they can be a good option because they’ll know the venue inside out, will usually have rigging equipment (trussing, hoists, etc.) suitable for the venue and they will already be based locally. However, if you are going to rely on them, make sure they are familiar with the nature of rigging you require and they are available when you need them - depending on the scale of your rigging requirements, you are likely to have to pay for their services. Perhaps they will be supplied by the promoter or perhaps the promoter will arrange for a rigging company to do the work of putting in the points and hanging motors, this is a common option and the riggers with the touring production will simply be involved with marking out on site.  

Where in-house riggers aren’t an option, you’ll clearly need to appoint your own. For simple one-off jobs, freelance riggers can be used, but you’ll need to ensure they are properly insured and you may have to hire in the rigging equipment yourself. For most jobs therefore, a rigging company will likely be the easiest option as they can provide a complete service – liaising with designers and others, providing a suitably competent and insured rigging team, drawing up rigging plots / calculations and providing all of the rigging equipment needed. Travelling tour riggers (freelance or rigging companies) may be a good idea if your production is on the road to more than one venue, because once they get to know the stage set and key production members, they’ll likely be quicker and more flexible than in-house riggers at responding to changes / problems but it is usual for tour riggers to not be involved with the climbing operations, this reduces the number of tour riggers that are required on the road. 

You may already have a rigger or rigging company in mind well before production plans are settled, perhaps because they’ve rigged for you previously. If not, you should:

  • See the list of National Rigging Certificate holders by looking at the National Rigging Advisory Group holders list here.
  • Select a suitable rigger or rigging company from the list of riggers holding at least a Level 2 (or Level 3 for Rigging Supervisors) National Rigging Certificate (NRC). 
  • Ask them to provide evidence of competence for the Rigging Supervisor and any support riggers but rigging competence may need to be supported by competence in other areas, for example, holding valid IPAF or CPCS card for MEWP operation, competent person tickets for kit inspections under LOLER, work at height techniques (including arrangements for rescue), first aid training, etc.

Appoint your rigging supervisor early in the production process as they need time to plan lifting operations, including addressing and responding to the items listed in ‘Scoping the Job’ (see above) and ‘Exchange of information’ (see below). Rigging Supervisors are responsible for ensuring all rigging equipment, practices and techniques meet industry standards.

Communication / exchange of information for rigging safely

Once appointed, your Rigging Supervisor should be asked to comment on the following:

  • Production schedules / plans, including any Construction Phase Plans under CDM
  • Design plans / plots (to scale) showing the positions of any items to be lifted, including information on their weight, orientation and means of attachment
  • Production and Design risk assessments, and as appropriate, venue safety rules
  • Venue layout plans / plots (to scale) showing location of hanging points with their safe working loads, and access to necessary services (electrical);

and they in turn should be asked to provide:

  • Rigging plan / plot (to scale) for all of the production equipment they will be lifting / supporting, including load calculations for each venue
  • Risk assessment / method statements for safety risks under their control
  • Competency certificates for the rigging team (including for MEWP operation, work at height, rescue, first aid, etc.)
  • Confirmation that all lifting equipment and accessories meet LOLER requirements for safety inspection / thorough examination.

These documents should be collated in a Safety File held on site or tour by the H&S avisor and made readily available to relevant Heads of Dept.

Managing the rigging job

Your Rigging Supervisor will be in control of and responsible for the rigging job, but the following requirements should help you, and them, maintain appropriate safety standards on your production.

Site control / access

  • There must be a nominated Rigging Supervisor on all rigging jobs. Where there are two or more rigging companies present (e.g. venue and tour riggers), one person should be appointed in overall charge of production rigging operations
  • The Rigging Supervisor must ‘sign-off’ / approve all lifting plans / plots; any subsequent alterations required to these (by Lighting Designers or others) must first be approved by the Rigging Supervisor. The Rigging Supervisor should also be able to provide load calculations which demonstrate the factor of safety being applied to supporting structures and lifting components (slings, chain hoists, trussing, etc.)
  • All work at height must be adequately planned and organised to ensure those who work at height are suitably protected from injury, with adequate means of rescue available, and measures taken to prevent persons below from being injured from falling objects 
  • Where the rigging requires access to roof grid spaces, suitable safe working procedures and access control measures must be applied. Where MEWPs are used for access and lifting production equipment, these must be of a type suitable for the workspace and only operated by suitably trained/ qualified people 

Lifting operations

  • The Rigging Supervisor must be present when lifting, or lowering, operations are in progress and they must be in control of the floor space in which these operations occur i.e. authorised to deny access to the area where this is necessary for safety reasons
  • Electrically driven chain hoists must be controlled by switches of the ‘dead man’s hand’ type i.e. they need constant pressure to make them operate. Where multiple chain hoists lift a single truss grid, their operation should be synchronised to a single control switch for a smooth lift, avoiding the need to ‘inch’ the hoists
  • The power supplies to the chain hoist control units should have a clearly marked emergency stop isolator and all power supplies should also have suitable earth leakage and overload protection. Control units should preferably be of the low voltage type (i.e. as opposed to mains voltage)
  • Those in control of lifting operations must have visual line of sight of the equipment rig being moved and of the area directly below it. Spotters giving verbal instruction / hand signals may be necessary in crowded stage settings and/or where the items being lifted pass close to other equipment or structures. Prior to any lifting operation commencing, a clear warning should be given to all present. Lifting operations must not be rushed
  • Rigging Supervisors must assess the need for redundancy in supporting suspended loads, and be able to justify when these are not provided, for example, because of a large factor of safety between the lifting capacity and the load being lifted, and/or where double brake or other high specification hoists are being used, etc. Where ‘safeties’ (secondary means of suspension) are required, they must be capable of holding the load following catastrophic failure of one or more lifting components
  • No-one can add to, remove or otherwise alter the loads on rigged trussing / bars / suspended set elements / etc. unless with the full knowledge and agreement of the Rigging Supervisor
  • No-one can lift or lower flown rigs, set elements or similar (e.g. to re-orientate items, replace bulbs, change gels, etc.) unless with the full knowledge and agreement of the Rigging Supervisor
  • Where the rigging team are not present during or between performances, the Rigging Supervisor should take steps to prevent ‘tampering of flown rigs, for example, by removing or locking hoist control units / panels.

Lifting equipment

All lifting equipment and lifting accessories should be:

  • ‘CE’ marked by the manufacturer and have a current report of thorough examination under the LOLER 1998
  • uniquely identifiable and subject to a thorough examination by a competent person every 6 months if a lifting accessory or lifting equipment used to lift a person, or every 12 months for all other lifting equipment. Lifting equipment may also be thoroughly examined in accordance with a ‘Written scheme of Thorough Examination’ which might prescribe longer or shorter intervals based on experience and risk assessment
  • accompanied by their reports of thorough examination when taken from one employer’s undertaking to be used in another’s
  • in a serviceable condition and inspected to be so before each use. Damaged, faulty or incomplete equipment should be marked and quarantined to prevent inadvertent re-use
  • any wire rope terminations must be checked to comply with the appropriate part of EN13411 (1-7) by the Rigging Supervisor before first use
  • strong enough to take the loads likely to be imposed on it, with a suitable factor of safety applied. For overhead lifting this is usually taken to be at least 8:1. The Rigging Supervisor must know the weight of the load to be lifted and the safe working load of any lifting equipment in any likely configuration to be used
  • proof load tested by a competent person where the Rigging Supervisor or other Competent Person considers this necessary to demonstrate its strength.

In relation to specific lifting equipment / operations:

  • where practical, flown trussing should be lowered to the ground to enable alterations to production equipment, though where this isn’t practical (e.g. full stage set in place), other means of access may be used e.g. MEWPs.
  • Riggers must not climb trussing unless it has been clearly demonstrated that the trussing used and/or any installed fall protection measures have been purposely designed to comfortably withstand the likely dynamic loadings imposed on it during a fall (accounting for the likely worst case ‘fall factor’) and the path of any possible fall avoids dangerous obstructions; there must also be suitable rescue arrangements in place
  • ground-supported trussing must only be placed on solid ground / base, with an adequate combination of spreader legs / beams, guys or weights to maintain stability, and all within acceptable loading tolerances on any truss nodes / chords
  • Electric chain hoists must be marked with their safe working load and fitted with an overload protection device which protects it from lifting a designated factor over and above its SWL. The Rigging Supervisor must also be aware of the ‘duty factor’ of each hoist and ensure this isn’t exceeded during rigging or performances.

Rescue Operative Profile

Someone who can rescue others stuck or injured at height where the work or access equipment does not allow the simple lowering or raising of the stricken worker to a place of safety without putting people at risk e.g. lowering of truss structure. The need for a Rescue Rigger at a worksite should be determined through risk assessment and will be dependent on many factors, not least being how long it might take to get a stuck or injured person to a place of safety - suspension syncope / trauma is considered to be a risk factor in as little as 10-20mins. On call / standby, the Rescue Rigger will typically have their own work at height access equipment and a rescue grab-pack with sufficient equipment to be able to perform a safe rescue from any part of a given venue / location – all recced and risk assessed.