Safety, Training, Certification, and Other S.E.P.s

By: Richard Cadena

“AN S.E.P.,” HE [FORD] SAID, “is something we can’t see or don’t see or our brain doesn’t let us see because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem. That’s what S.E.P. means— somebody else’s problem. The brain just edits it out. . . . if you look at it directly you won’t see it unless you know precisely what it is.” ~ As quoted from The hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Douglas Adams Live in Concert

There are two kinds of people in the entertainment industry: those who take responsibility for their own safety and training, and those who believe that safety and training is somebody else’s problem. As long as that is true, the sun will continue to shine and the accidents will continue to pile up. The first group will jump up and down and wave our arms about safety, training, and certification, and the other group won’t see, or their brains won’t let them see the bene t of training and certification because they think it’s an S.E.P. It’s a blind spot, but they’ll find some justification or other, like repeating the myth that training and certification somehow creates more liability.

It’s a myth that’s been floating around in the industry since the inception of rigging and electrics certification, and it’s one that still casts its shadow of misinformation to this day. But after more than a decade of industry certification, we can now point to a long track record and the lack of evidence to support that claim. The truth is that becoming certified or getting training doesn’t make you any more liable than not being certified, and in fact, it may be just the opposite. But don’t take my word for it.

In 2010, John B. Shepherd, Attorney at Law with the rm Short Shepherd & Stanton, wrote a memo that addressed the issue. A lawsuit, he said, is based on negligence, and there are only two ways a civil claim could be legally valid; either a person intentionally caused an accident or a person’s negligence contributed to an accident. If a person intentionally causes an accident, that’s a criminal offense. If a person is negligent, whether or not that person is certified has no bearing on the matter.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, negligence is “the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do.” A reasonable person, it could be argued, would take care to get proper training before undertaking potentially dangerous work like rigging thousands of pounds over people’s heads or setting up a power distribution system on a stage.

Whether we like it or not, the government and the insurance industry are the main drivers of safety training today, and consequently, of certification too. Public pressure in response to high profile accidents in our industry have resulted in the insurance industry putting pressure on companies and organizations to better govern themselves, and the industry wanted to take action before the government imposed undue regulations. Thus, industry certification was born, but that may not necessarily keep the government from stepping in.

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In Nevada, for example, the governor recently signed into law a bill requiring some employees in the entertainment industry to complete either an OSHA 10 or an OSHA 30 course. The 10-hour OSHA 10 is for non-supervisory employees and the 30-hour course is for supervisors.

When the law went into effect on January 1, 2018, there was a spate of Facebook posts bemoaning the fact amongst a sprinkle of positive posts, led mostly by John Featherstone of Lightswitch. The number of people who were unhappy about it far outnumbered the people who supported the move. The most common complaint seemed to be that the content was not specific to the entertainment industry but more for general industry and construction workers. If you’re a member of IATSE or working under an IATSE agreement, there are safety training opportunities available, including an industry-speci c OSHA 10 class. (More information about the IATSE Training Trust Fund can be found at www.iatsettf.org.)

There are also other industry-speci c programs like the Safety Passport program in the UK and the Safety Pass Program in Hollywood, and they could be models for the future. The Safety Pass Program was developed by agreement between labor and management in the motion picture and television industry to meet the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requirements for training employees in the safe use of equipment and work practices on the job. Before anyone sets foot on a studio lot, they have to take an introductory General Safety Pass Course covering injury and illness prevention, personal protection equipment, lifting safety, and hazard communication. They are then issued a Safety Passcard and then they are eligible to take other courses.

More programs are being developed, like the Event Safety Access Training (ESAT), which is being launched by the Event Safety Alliance (www.eventsafetyalliance.org). It’s an online, entry-level safety awareness training program with a competency credential component, and it was created by live event production professionals specifically for the industry in partnership with DC3 Education (a division of Full Sail University). It’s a self-paced curriculum with seven modules that cover health and safety concepts, roles and responsibilities involving safety, health and safety regulations, personal protective equipment, event health hazards and controls, event injury hazards and controls, and event operational hazards and controls. This new online course complements their workshops, symposiums, and summits on event safety, crowd safety, severe weather, as well as their Event Safety Guide: A Guide to health, Safety, and Welfare at Live Entertainment Events in the United States.

Liability is unavoidable. When you get behind the wheel of your car, you take on liability. If you run a stop sign and injure someone, you’re liable whether or not you have a driver’s license. If you own property, you could be liable for someone slipping and falling on your floor. If you set up a power distribution system using faulty cables and it causes a re, you might be liable, certified or not.

The “knowledge-is-liability” argument is the inverse of the “I didn’t know” argument. Just as ignorance is no excuse, knowledge is not a prerequisite for liability. You can’t control your exposure to liability, but you can be trained to recognize hazards, help prevent accidents, and avoid negligence.

Safety training, education, and certification may not be the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, but it’s a good start.


Richard Cadena is Technical Editor of Lighting&Sound America and Light&Sound International and a Contributing Editor to Protocol. He is also an ETCP Certified Entertainment Electrician and an ETCP recognized Trainer. Richard is the author of Electricity for the Entertainment Electrician & Technician, Automated Lighting: The Art and Science of Moving Light, and Lighting Design for Modern Houses of Worship.

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