Lighting & Grip Safety

Performing arts lighting has many functions; it is used to see what’s occurring on the stage, to focus the audience’s attention on a specific person or area, or to set the tone or mood of a particular scene. The uses of performing arts lighting are as varied as each production at your campus.


Working with performing arts lighting can be a dangerous activity. Conducting operations such as hanging lights, sometimes in the dark, with high-voltage electricity has the potential to cause a variety of accidents and injuries such as falls, fires, electrocution, and injuries from falling objects. In addition, lighting equipment is heavy and can cause significant injuries if mechanical aids or proper lifting techniques are not used.


This section contains a brief overview of typical lighting operations and hazardous exposures while installing, maintaining, and storing lights and fixtures. Review the rigging and safe lifting guidelines in the Set Construction section.


In addition, the Performing Arts Code of Safe Practices Matrix identifies the applicable Performing Arts Codes of Safe Practices you are required to read for lighting operations.


Fire Risks

Performing arts lighting equipment may burn hot, and the lenses used in the lights can magnify the heat. Make sure you use only approved equipment to modify your lights; using unauthorized materials to rig lighting colors or change the shape of the light can put you at risk for fire. Make sure any sources of heat, such as very hot lights, are placed well clear of anything that could ignite, including paper, plastic, flammable furniture, and draperies.

Your fire prevention training will provide you with critical information about your venue’s fire protection systems, including the use and location of fire extinguishers.


Electrical Risks

Electrical shock happens when a part of your body completes a circuit between conductors or a grounding source. The effects of electrical shock range from a tingle to death, depending on the amount of current flow and the path of the current through your body. To prevent electrical shock, follow safe electrical work practices including lockout/tagout. For additional information regarding lockout and tagout, read the Lockout/Tagout/Blockout section in the Set Construction chapter and the Code of Safe Practice on lockout/tagout, and refer to your Campus Lockout/ Tagout/Blockout Program for more information. For additional information on fundamental safe electrical work practices, review the electrical safety code of safe practices to understand why and how electrical shock can be so dangerous.

There are inherent electrical exposures while working with lighting instruments. Performing arts lighting uses a lot of electricity, and the risk of electrocution is high. Lighting equipment must be checked regularly for worn areas and exposed wire that might put an employee at risk for electric shock. Do not ignore even a slight tingle when you feel this sensation while handling a lighting instrument, cord, or component of the equipment. This tingle is an indication that something is wrong, and you may be at risk of exposure to a more significant electrical shock. Inform your supervisor of this condition and correct the issue before it becomes a major problem.


Risk of Falling From Heights

The procedures for hanging and focusing lights may require you to work from significant heights on catwalks, scaffolding, tension grids, aerial work platforms, or other elevated work surfaces. Fall exposures must be identified in the planning stages and where necessary, appropriate fall protection measures (guardrails, fall arrest gear, etc.) need to be in place and used. Employees and students must be trained on potential fall exposures and the presence or use of required fall protection. Supervisors must ensure employees are following all safety requirements. In addition to direct training, there are several codes of safe practices that address fall protection.


Overhead Lighting

Performing arts lighting rigs are very heavy and can cause severe injuries if they fall. Employees and students must be trained on how to hang and properly secure lights. All lights must be double-checked for safety and tethered to the lighting rig with a safety cable.

Because the lights are at greatest risk of falling when the lighting rig is being moved or worked on, make sure no one is in the area below before proceeding with overhead lighting work. In addition to looking below, clearly announce and notify all individuals in the area that overhead work is occurring. Remember, the performing arts venues are often dark, and you may not be able to see if anyone is below the work area.


Battens – Pipes with Lighting Instruments Attached

Lighting instruments are plugged into raceways that are attached to line sets that are commonly referred to as “electrics.” The raceways contain many wires that when energized are dangerous. Make certain the electrics are not too close to flammable materials, such as scenery and draperies, because the heat can scorch and possibly ignite the materials.

Regular inspection and maintenance will identify loose screws and bolts that may fall and cause an injury to someone below. Checking the rope locks is important to ensure electrics are holding properly. Cables need to be properly rigged to avoid snagging on battens, scenery, and draperies.


Dimmer Rooms and Boards

Only trained and qualified employees are allowed to operate and maintain the light board and dimmers. Make sure the manufacturer manuals are available for review. Good housekeeping practices are essential. Never store flammable or combustible materials in the dimmer room or near dimmer equipment.



The followspot is a light that is physically moved by an operator to follow a performer as he or she moves around the stage. It might have devices to change colors or the beam size. The followspot operator may have to monitor several areas at the same time.

The followspot operator must be thoroughly trained on the manufacturer’s instructions and safe operation of the followspot, maintenance procedures (electrical attachments, worn cables, grounding, gel frame, stability of the unit, lamp replacement), potential burn exposures, and what to do in the event of an emergency. For example, the followspot operator should know what to do if the gel in the gel frame begins to smoke.


Cable Management

Lights focus the attention of the audience and set the mood for a scene. A lot of planning goes into the placement, color, and intensity of the lights, and the same amount of care must be given to running cable. Improperly run cables can become a tangled mess that poses trip and fire hazards and hinders troubleshooting to determine why a light is not working. Failure to manage the cables can also become a distraction to the patrons in those small intimate venues where the audience can see everything. Start with a plan that precludes chaos.

  1. Create a circuiting diagram for the theater of all circuits.

  2. Use a light plot to determine how many circuits are needed for each lighting location.

  3. Use the circuiting diagram to plan which circuits will be used for which lights. Try to leave a few spare circuits in each location.

  4. Use gaffers tape to label the circuit number at both ends of each cable.

  5. Note on the light plot which circuit each light was plugged into.

  6. Use the shortest cables possible to eliminate hanging loops that will tangle.

  7. Provide sufficient slack in the cable to allow for focusing.

  8. Never tie down the lighting instrument’s power cord.

  9. Group cables in parallel lines and use Velcro rip-ties, theatrical cord, or tie line (glazed or unglazed) to keep them organized. The use of Velcro rip-ties, theatrical cord, or tie line (glazed or unglazed) has several advantages: 

    1. you need not replace the Velcro rip-ties, cords, or tie lines each time you need to add or remove a cable from the group 

    2. the cables are not at risk of being cut as they are when you have to cut off a zip-tie 

    3. the risk of injury from the sharp edge of a trimmed zip-tie is eliminated 

    4. the job is not disrupted by the search for a replacement tie as can happen when using zip-ties that cannot be reused 

    5. rip-ties, cords, and tie lines, generally, cannot be pulled so tight they damage the cables 

  10. Never wrap cables around support beams or catwalk guardrails.

  11. Use re-closable J hooks and/or Velcro cable straps to support cables that must be suspended from one point to another.

  12. Coil extra lengths of cable, and use Velcro rip-ties or tie line to keep the coil stable.

  13. Use cable guards where the cables must cross a foot-traffic area. If practical, use a cable guard that is equipped with yellow or orange stripes to alert cast and crew of the trip hazard.

Inspection, Maintenance, and Storage

Regular inspection and maintenance will significantly reduce potential electrical malfunctions and fire hazards. Training is required for any employee responsible for inspecting or maintaining lighting instruments. Your Performing Arts Department will have specific inspection requirements. In general, inspecting lighting equipment should include:

  1. Visual observations of the condition of cables, plugs, cords, grips, insulation, and electrical pockets.

  2. Confirmation that lighting instruments, electrics, cables, gel frames, top hats, barn doors, and other electrical instrumentation are clean and dust free.

  3. Confirmation that electrical equipment is stored in a clean and dry storage area.

  4. Confirmation that the power cords are coiled, the shutters closed, and all attachments secured.