Construction & Rigging Safety

Planning is a critical component of set construction. Set designs are planned out in order to have a clear idea of the overall scope of the production; including structural requirements, special effects, props, lighting, furniture, decorative materials, paints, costumes, etc.

Planning also helps supervisors identify equipment and tool requirements, use of chemicals, personal protection requirements, and employee training needs. This, in turn, helps identify and implement applicable safety policies and procedures throughout the production process.

This section contains a brief overview of commonly identified set construction operations, exposures, and safe practices.

In addition, the USF STAGES Code of Safe Practices Matrix identifies the applicable USF STAGES codes of Safe Practices you are required to read for set construction operations.


Fall Protection

Set construction involves exposure to fall hazards from a variety of processes and procedures. Fall hazards are present when working on ladders, around the paint frame, on the catwalks, outside of the catwalks, in elevated storage areas of the shops, and on unprotected elevated work platforms such as the open edge of the stage.

Fall protection systems must be provided to protect cast and crew from fall hazards where the fall will be from an elevation of 7.5 feet or more. There may also be special situations or conditions where fall protection is warranted or recommended at heights below 7.5 feet. Refer to the Codes of Safe Practice that address fall hazards associated with aerial work platforms, catwalks, unprotected elevated work (controlled access) surfaces, fixed and portable ladders, paint frames, rooftops, scaffolds, and tension grids. Be sure to review each of these codes along with the Code of Safe Practice on fall protection trigger heights.

The temporary nature of set construction presents unique challenges. When it is impractical to use conventional fall protection systems or the fall protection system presents a greater hazard, special steps must be taken to protect cast and crew from falls. The special steps start with the creation of a Fall Protection Plan that is developed by a qualified person1 and developed specifically for the site where the set construction is being performed. The plan must:

  1. Be kept up-to-date

  2. Be kept on site

  3. Be implemented under the supervision of a person competent in fall hazards and prevention

  4. Specify the steps to be taken to reduce or eliminate fall hazards for workers who cannot be protected using conventional fall protection systems

  5.  Identify each location where conventional fall protection methods cannot be used

  6.  Include a safety monitoring system

  7. Name the protection methods to be used for each job title

  8. Specify the fall incident investigation process



Rigging is the use of hardware to lift, lower, and hold performance equipment on or above the stage. A variety of rigging hardware may be used for various tasks, and understanding the load capacity for each piece of equipment is critical. Employees must receive training prior to operating any rigging equipment. General safety guidelines for the use and maintenance of rigging equipment include:

  1. Inspect rigging equipment before use, after any alterations, and at regular intervals.

  2. Make sure the counterweights are secured with a lock plate to keep the counterweights in place.

  3. Report and remove any damaged or defective ropes from service.

  4. Never shorten chains and ropes by knotting.

  5. Never exceed the safe load capacity of the system.

  6. Follow safe procedures when loading, unloading, or operating rigging systems.

  7. Warn people on the stage and grid before moving any rigged scenery or other object.

  8. Maintain control of moving pieces at all times.

  9. Never access the catwalks until trained and authorized to do so.

  10. Secure rigging equipment when it is not in use.


Paint Frame

The paint frame poses a unique fall hazard. The floor opening through which the paint frame moves is large enough for a person's leg to enter and in some cases could allow a body to pass through. It is easy to forget the danger of the floor opening as the canvas comes to life.

  • Ensure the guardrails are kept in place at all times.

  • Never step over or stand over the floor opening.


Power and Hand Tools

Employees must be trained on the proper use of power and hand tools, including applicable safety features, guards, and the required personal protective equipment. While each tool has specific guidelines, the following are general safety guidelines for all tools:

  1. Follow all manufacturers' instructions on the use and care of the tools.

  2. Inspect tools before use to check for any defects such as frayed wires or damaged hand tools. Remove defective tools from service and report findings to your supervisor.

  3. Never carry or hoist a power tool by its power cord.

  4. Unplug power tools before loading them, changing blades or bits, making adjustments, or cleaning them

  5. Never use power tools on wet surfaces or in wet weather.

  6. Never alter or remove any machine or blade guards.



Lockout/tagout/blockout (LOTO) is a method of preventing equipment from being set in motion and endangering workers. Failure to properly isolate and de-energize energy sources can be fatal. Compliance with the University’s LOTO policy is mandatory for your protection and the protection of others. Although the application of LOTO is often limited to electrical energy, you should understand that other power sources, including mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, and thermal energies, require similar procedures and care to ensure your safety. Other energy is often stored energy, such as in electrical batteries, capacitors, and springs. Even gravity presents a form of energy. See the Code of Safe Practice regarding lockout/ tagout/blockout for additional information



Inspect portable ladders at frequent regular intervals, and maintain them in good condition, free from oil, grease, or other slippery materials. Remove defective ladders from service and report the defect to your supervisor. Place ladders on stable bases. Never use boxes, chairs, or other unstable surfaces in place of a ladder. For more information on ladder safety read the Codes of Safe Practice on fixed and portable ladders.


Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE includes all types of equipment used to increase safety while performing potentially hazardous tasks. PPE may include eye and face protection, head protection, foot protection, hand protection, respiratory protection, and the use of other equipment to help protect you against injury or illness. Your supervisor will identify required PPE for designated tasks and work areas and will communicate proper use procedures to you. Training will also be provided as needed. As a PPE user, you must understand and comply with the PPE use requirements provided to you during training and by your supervisor and remember to ask questions if the direction is unclear. Consult with the EH&S Department and refer to the UC PPE Policy for more information.


Lifting and Material Handling

Back pain and injuries related to lifting and material handling are some of the most frequent types of injuries. Stage pieces are often awkward, heavy, or oddly shape, which makes them difficult to lift properly. Ask yourself these questions before lifting your load: Is it too large or heavy for one person to lift?

  1. Do you need a mechanical aid or partner?

  2. Are there any tripping hazards on your route?

  3. Will you be able to get through doorways or corridors as you are carrying the object?

Remember to wear supportive non-slip closed-toe shoes to help avoid a fall while carrying your load. In some cases, protective work boots with steel toe reinforcement and other safety features may be required. Discuss proper footwear with your supervisor or Campus EH&S Office. Follow these safe lifting techniques: 

  1. Stand close to the load – Carrying an object as close to your body as possible will reduce the strain on your back and help maintain balance.

  2. Lift with your legs – Using your leg muscles helps keep your back better aligned, which will reduce the load on your lower back.

  3. Grip the load securely – Get a good handle on the load before you lift to avoid slipping. If the load starts to fall, let it go.

  4. Lowering the load – Make sure you keep the load close to you, and use your legs while lowering the load to the floor.


Chemical Hazards

The key to safe chemical use is to understand the physical and health hazards of the materials you use, implement safe handling precautions, and recognize emergency/first aid procedures. Each chemical container has a manufacturer’s label with the chemical name(s), hazard warnings, and the manufacturer’s name and address. Labels must not be removed. If secondary containers are used, those containers must also be labeled with the information. Each product will have a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) that contains the following:

  1. Physical properties

  2. Flammability and fire-fighting information

  3. Health hazards

  4. Emergency and first aid procedures

  5. Stability and special storage considerations

  6. Spill, leak, and disposal procedures

  7. Personal protection information

Your supervisor will identify which products will be used for the set construction. All employees will receive training on the location and content of the SDS; the required PPE; and the proper use, storage, and disposal of each product.

There are many types of paints, inks, pigments, and dyes used in the performing arts. While each product will have specific manufacturer’s instructions, the following safety guidelines apply to all products: Read the product labels and the SDS to help you identify the potential hazards of the product you are using.

  1. Know the ventilation requirements of the products you are using.

  2. Avoid ingestion of materials by not eating or drinking in your work area, and wash your hands before eating and drinking.

  3. Keep containers closed except when you are using them.

  4. Control ignition sources in areas where flammable liquids are used.

  5. Never puncture aerosol cans or expose them to high heat.

  6. Dispose of each product as directed by the manufacturer and in accordance with your Campus Hazardous Waste Management Program. Contact the EH&S Department if you have questions.

  7. Know and understand the chemical spill procedures for each of the products you are handling.

For more information, consult your Campus Hazard Communication Program and the Code of Safe Practices regarding hazard communication.

The use of chemicals often results in the generation of hazardous waste. Dispose of waste as directed by the product manufacturer and in accordance with the Campus Hazardous Waste Management Program. You can contact the EH&S Department for more information and guidance regarding hazardous waste management. They will provide guidance regarding:

  • Proper storage of the waste until it is collected

  • Proper labeling of the waste containers

  • Special handling requirements based on the hazard characteristics of the waste


Confined Space Hazards 

Recognizing confined spaces and the hazards they present is critical when you are working in facilities and areas where they are found. Untrained, ill-equipped workers who try to work in or rescue people from confined spaces often become victims of serious injury or death. Only authorized personnel trained in accordance with the Campus Confined Space Entry Program may enter confined spaces. A confined space is defined as:

  • An area large enough for a person to enter and perform assigned work, and

  • Has limited or restricted means of entry or exit, and

  • Is not designed for continuous human occupancy.

Examples of potential confined spaces found in the performing arts include, but are not limited to:

  • Orchestra pit lift area (area under the orchestra pit)

  • Elevator pits

  • House cove (attic) lighting positions

  • Plumbing runs

  • Boilers

Depending on the construction of the paint frame system, the floor level area below the main shop floor (where the paint frame is typically accessed) may also fall under the definition of a confined space. In some cases, a fixed ladder is used to access this lower area. If that were the case, the types of tasks performed and materials used in the lower level of the paint frame would be limited. See your EH&S Department for further information and restrictions regarding your performing arts facilities.

Protect yourself and others

  1. Consult with the EH&S Department and refer to the campus-specific Confined Space Entry Program, procedures, and training requirements.

  2. Never violate the posted “ACCESS RESTRICTED TO AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL” and “ENTRY BY PERMIT ONLY” signs if you are not authorized to enter.

  3. Know how to identify a confined space.

  4. Never enter an area that could be a confined space. Contact your supervisor or instructor if you are in doubt.

  5. NEVER enter a confined space to try to rescue another worker unless properly trained and equipped to do so.

Contact your Campus EH&S Department for assistance in identifying confined spaces in your facilities. For more information, consult your Campus Confined Space Entry Program, and read the Code of Safe Practice regarding confined space entry.



Work areas can become congested while set building and rehearsals take place. Clutter can contribute to slip and fall injuries or to being struck by objects and can be a significant fire hazard. Remember to clean up after each work session. Place trash in proper receptacles. Avoid accumulating scrap lumber and materials. Store tools in the proper areas when not in use.


Storage of Materials

The proper storage of materials is extremely important to the safety of employees, students, performers, and audience. Storage procedures should comply with the following guidelines:

  1. Store flammable and combustible materials in the designated flammable storage cabinets.

  2. Store materials at least 18 inches below all sprinkler heads, and at least 36 inches horizontally from the sprinkler heads.

  3. Store materials at least 24 inches below the ceiling where sprinkler heads are not present.

  4. Never obstruct exits.

  5. Never obstruct access to firefighting equipment, such as extinguishers, hose stations, or alarm pull stations.

  6. Maintain a clear unobstructed space of at least 36 inches in all directions from electrical service equipment.