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Principles of Safety

Why be so concerned about safety issues − aren't they just something that gets in the way of what we really want to be doing? The answer is that we all have a responsibility, both legal and moral, to be sure that our activities do not put ourselves or others in danger − that is, at unacceptable risk of harm. This is of particular importance where people gather at an event, as they will have a reasonable expectation that proper consideration has been given to their well-being, and any failing in safety could affect many lives. Furthermore, we also have a responsibility to protect the property of others from damage.

So, safety issues could be defined, in the context of PA systems, as the precautions that need to be taken in order to reduce, to acceptably low levels, the likelihood of occurrences that may result in harm to the performers, the audience or anyone else in the vicinity, or which may result in damage to property.

We will only consider here protection against dangerous occurrences that might arise from the presence or operation of PA systems, lighting and related equipment. (Other aspects of safety at an event, e.g. the provision of suitable fire exits and competent stewards, are typically the responsibility of others, such as the owner of the venue or the event organisers.) The information below is given in the form of quick check-lists which cover the most likely causes of dangerous incidents, though these lists are by no means exhaustive. As a minimum, be certain to comply with the Health and Safety Regulations and Guidance applicable in your country and region.

An essential element in the maintenance of a safe environment − both for staff and the general public − is the carrying out of risk assessments. A risk assessment is a formal procedure in which hazards are identified and, for each hazard, the likelihood and severity of harm is evaluated. The results are recorded, along with details of any measures taken to reduce the level of risk associated with each hazard. These assessments must be repeated as necessary in the event of changed circumstances, and in any case must be regularly reviewed. No person should undertake any hazardous activity without the risks having been assessed, taking into account the competence of the person(s) concerned, and having taken appropriate action to reduce risks as necessary. As an example, a risk assessment for a particular activity might involve considering the following questions:

  • What kinds of things might go wrong, e.g. what kinds of accidents or potentially dangerous occurrences might there possibly be during the activity?
  • Could there be any 'secondary' or 'consequential' effects? e.g. a falling speaker hitting a gantry whose resulting movement might then create further hazards.
  • What is the likelihood of each primary and consequential occurrence, taking into account measures already in place to make it less likely?
  • For each possible occurrence, how many people could be affected?
  • How severe could the effect on those people be? e.g. Could it cause death, a serious or minor injury, a serious or lasting health problem?
  • Having considered the questions above, are the overall risks judged to be sufficiently low to allow the activity to proceed as currently planned?
  • If not, what steps must be taken to reduce the risks to a suitably low level? For example, is it necessary to modify the way the activity is to be done, by whom it is to be done, when it is to be done, or to introduce any additional precautions or safety measures?

The HSE publishes useful information concerning safety at events in the UK. This page provides a useful starting point, while this page includes free downloadable PDF leaflets and other reference material. The "Purple Guide" event safety handbook, previously produced by the HSE, is now published by the Events Industry Forum (EIF) and is available by subscription here. (All are external links that open in a new window.)

Physical Safety

  • Use correct lifting, carrying and placing techniques at all times.
  • When working at height use appropriate safe access equipment. Always ensure that the access equipment is in good condition and is safely erected, before use. Only use it in accordance with the manufacturer's limits and guidelines.
  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE) as appropriate to the work being undertaken (hard hat, knee pads, safety harness, etc.).
  • Ensure that all equipment is positioned (and if necessary, properly secured) so as not to present a hazard by it falling. Remember that speakers outdoors may be subject to substantial wind forces. Unsecured speakers may be subject to movement due to vibration caused by their operation.
  • Only fly speakers that are equipped with purpose-designed rigging points. Ensure that the support points and all rigging materials used are amply adequate for the load (taking into account wind loading if outdoors).
  • As a rule of thumb, it is recommended that flown equipment be supported using rigging materials and structures having a Safe Working Load (SWL) of at least 5 times the actual weight to be supported.
  • Ensure that all cables are routed and secured so as not to present a trip hazard. (Gaffer tape is invaluable for securing cables to floors.)
  • Ensure that all speaker stands, lighting stands, etc. are positioned so that their legs do not present a trip hazard. If necessary, use waist-high barriers and/or hazard tape.

Electrical Safety (also see Fire Safety)

  • Safety earths, such as those within power distribution and supply arrangements or that protect powered equipment, must never be disconnected or 'lifted'. (See Class I.)
  • Mains-powered equipment and mains cables must be maintained in good condition and regularly checked for damage. Formal inspection and testing to ensure continued electrical safety (usually called PAT testing) must be carried out at suitable intervals, and the results retained as evidence of the equipment being adequately maintained.
  • Damaged or otherwise defective mains-powered equipment, including mains cables, plugs, sockets, etc., must not be used until properly repaired and tested. Remember that an in-date PAT-test label is not proof that an item is still in a safe condition to use.
  • All cables and other equipment used for the supply and distribution of power, including the fixed supply arrangements of the premises, must be adequate for the current-demand of the equipment to be connected.
  • Repairs or modifications to equipment, including mains cables, must be carried out only by competent persons in possession of the appropriate tools and test equipment for the work. For safety guidance on equipment testing and repair work in the UK, see Health & Safety document indg354 (a PDF, opens in a new window).
  • Never make any modification to hired equipment. Notify the hire company in writing of any damage, faults or safety concerns relating to their equipment − whether or not the issue is believed to have existed at the time of hiring.
  • Make use of RCDs as appropriate. (In some cases the source(s) of supply may already be adequately RCD protected, but this must not be assumed.)
  • Check all RCDs at the recommended interval, using the integral test button.
  • Be aware of the location of power isolation switches and/or plugs and ensure that access to them is not obstructed, to enable safe disconnection of equipment from power sources in an emergency.
  • When using equipment that requires an external power supply unit, use only genuine units precisely as advised by the equipment manufacturer. Using another make or model of power unit may create a safety hazard, even if its voltage and current rating appear to be appropriate.
  • To minimise shock risks when 3-phase supplies are in use, all mixing equipment, mains-powered musical instruments (and associated equipment) and the backline amplification equipment should preferably be supplied from the same phase. If practicable, all mixing equipment should be supplied from the same supply point as that on-stage equipment.
  • Be familiar with the proper first-aid procedures for use in the event of electric shock and burns.
  • Ensure that the fixed electrical installation of the venue is in a safe condition. Ideally, a relevant condition report and/or test certificate(s) should be available.
  • In the UK, fixed electrical installations should comply with BS 7671 and temporary distribution systems for entertainment purposes should comply with BS 7909. Additional local requirements may be imposed in connection with entertainment licence conditions.
  • Alterations, additions or repairs to fixed electrical installations or temporary distribution systems should be carried out only by competent authorised persons in possession of the appropriate tools and test equipment for the work.
  • In the UK, the Electricity at Work Regulations applies to employers, employees, and self-employed persons. It can be viewed at this external link Electricity at Work Regulations (opens in a new window).
  • Guidance for entertainers in the UK is provided by HSE leaflet INDG 247, which can be viewed at this external link: Electrical Safety for Entertainers (a PDF, opens in a new window).

Fire Safety

  • Access to fire exits or fire-fighting equipment must not be obstructed, e.g. by cables or equipment.
  • Fire exit signs or emergency lighting facilities must not be obscured or otherwise disabled.
  • Appropriate fire extinguishers (e.g. suitable for use on live electrical equipment) must be available in the vicinity of equipment, flammable materials and other fire hazards.
  • All equipment and (where applicable) mains plugs must be fitted with appropriately-rated fuses.
  • Mains outlets and cables must not be overloaded.
  • All heat-producing equipment (such as amplifiers and lanterns) must be adequately ventilated and not located unduly close to flammable materials.
  • Be aware of the fire action procedures for the premises.
  • Follow precisely the manufacturer's instructions for the storage, handling and use of all pyrotechnic devices and associated control equipment.

Acoustic Safety

  • Ensure that sound levels do not reach values that could cause permanent damage to hearing, taking into account the length of time that high levels are present and how often the exposure is repeated − see About Sound Levels on the Decibels page.
  • Guidance on UK legislation and on avoiding damaging levels of exposure can be found on the website Sound Advice (external link, opens in a new window).

This safety information is provided for general guidance only, as specific safety requirements may exist in certain situations. No responsibility is accepted in the event of this information proving incomplete or inadequate in any respect. All safety advice and information provided must be interpreted in the context of the legislation and official guidance applicable to the country, district and local circumstances concerned. Please note that this disclaimer is in addition to the
disclaimer on the main contents page.

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This page last updated 27-Aug-2017.