Introduction to Performing Arts Safety

University performing arts activities present significant health, safety, and risk management challenges

Depending on the campus, performing arts activities might occur as part of academic programs in theater, dance, music, or drama departments; within performance roadhouses or they may be coordinated by a student-run club or organization. Each of these entities is faced with a variety of health and safety challenges, and although some risks overlap into all areas, others are unique or more significant based on the scope and complexity of the performance, where it is occurring, and who is coordinating it.

In academic departments, faculty, staff, and students may be involved in numerous phases of a production including design, set construction, props, special effects, costumes, electrics, makeup, acting, and front-of-house activities. All these areas present a wide diversity of health and safety hazards including, but not limited to, physical, chemical, and mechanical hazards in the shops; working at height challenges both on stage and back stage; and material handling risks during set construction, load in, and strike activities.

Beyond the great diversity of hazards in academic performing arts activities, challenges exist in evaluating the risks associated with new productions and training the many students involved in the programs. Dynamic and elaborate shows are being produced on a regular basis, thereby creating unique and challenging safety considerations for each play or concert. Students are integrated into many aspects of academic performing arts operations, and the constant influx of new individuals into the programs creates difficulties in providing and documenting safety training.

Along with academic programs, larger campuses may have performance “roadhouses” that coordinate and manage professional traveling shows including plays, concerts, and other events. Although performance houses may not involve as many student employees or volunteers relative to academic departments, they are faced with new shows and different set ups on a regular basis, significant material handling considerations, and they manage important contractual agreements with groups both inside and outside the University.

Most campuses also have student organizations and clubs that produce smaller skits and shows. These productions might not receive as much attention from campus officials; however, the risks associated with them can be considerable, and a thorough health and safety review of certain events may be necessary.

Last but not least, we are opening the doors of the University and inviting members of the general public to gather and enjoy our performances. With all these factors to consider, and many more, the integration of safe practices into University performing arts activities has been and continues to be critical for the well-being of faculty, staff, students, and the general public.

The purpose of the University of California Performing Arts Safety Manual is to provide faculty, staff, and students who work or participate in the performing arts with a general overview of potential hazards and related safe work procedures. As part of the introduction to this manual, a basic review of Injury & Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) requirements and the UC Policy on Health, Safety and the Environment will be provided and put in context of performing arts safety.

This manual is designed to follow a theater production from the planning stages to strike as outlined in the table of contents. In addition to the manual, the Performing Arts New Employee Checklist and the Codes of Safe Practice provide additional information on safe work procedures. All are excellent resources to assist you in:

  • Recognizing and understanding the hazards associated with various performing arts operations and activities,
  • Knowing when to apply various types of health and safety controls such as engineered devices (ventilation, machine guards, etc.), administrative practices (safety training, warning signs, etc.), or personal protective equipment (PPE) (respirators, safety glasses, hearing protection),
  • Planning for and responding to emergencies such as fires, earthquakes, or chemical spills.

Integration of the Safety Manual and Code of Safe Practices into routine training procedures and operations will meet key objectives and regulatory requirements of your IIPP.

IIPP Overview

The IIPP is a written guide to protect employees from illnesses and injuries. The IIPP complies with the California Code of Regulations Title 8, Section 3203 (8 CCR 3203), by establishing a safety management framework for identifying and correcting workplace hazards, ensuring employee training and compliance, and communicating information related to employee safety and health issues.

IIPP Responsibilities

Well-defined roles and responsibilities are the cornerstone of a robust safety program, and this is especially true in the dynamic and diverse world of University performing arts activities.

Upper management, including Deans and Department Chairs, are responsible for ensuring an effective IIPP is implemented in all areas under their scope of responsibility. For performing arts activities, this would include all facilities where employees and students work or are involved with production activities including the scene shop, costume shop, prop shop, stage area, front of house, music recital hall, catwalks, etc. Upper management must assign and authorize designated individuals to establish and support the key processes and procedures of the IIPP.

Supervisors are faculty and staff that oversee and direct others. Within University programs, this might include Directors, Producers, Stage Managers, House Managers, Technical Directors, or Scene Shop Managers. Supervisors play a critical role in the implementation of the IIPP and must be empowered and authorized to:

  • develop safe work practices and procedures,
  • enforce health and safety rules,
  • stop work activities that pose imminent danger,
  • ensure routine documented safety inspections occur,
  • provide or coordinate safety training,
  • make available and ensure proper use of PPE,
  • report and investigate injuries and incidents, and
  • maintain health and safety documentation associated with the IIPP.

Employees and students, including student employees, volunteers, and students engaged in academic activities, are accountable for understanding health and safety rules and for following safe work practices. Employees and students must:

  • obtain appropriate training for designated activities,
  • use PPE as required and directed,
  • report unsafe conditions, malfunctioning equipment, and other safety concerns,
  • report all work-related injuries and incidents, and
  • understand what to do in the event of an emergency.

Campus Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) provides health and safety consultation to all levels of individuals within the UC organization. EH&S safety professionals may:

  • assist with safety program implementation,
  • develop and provide safety training,
  • perform safety inspections,
  • conduct job or task hazard evaluations,
  • conduct incident investigations, and
  • monitor compliance.

Campus Risk Management provides risk mitigation and injury management services to all levels of individuals within the UC organization. Risk Management professionals may:

  • identify and evaluate emerging risks,
  • monitor Enterprise Risk Management best practices,
  • manage incident and injury claims, including workers’ compensation claims,
  • coordinate transitional return-to-work activities, and
  • review contractual agreements. EH&S and Risk Management should be considered resources to assist you in developing and implementing your unit-specific IIPP.

IIPP Hazard Identification and Correction

Recognizing hazards within your performing arts activities and correcting these hazards are critical elements of a robust IIPP. Your campus IIPP includes recommendations for performing routine safety inspections and your campus EH&S office can provide forms to document noted hazards and corrective actions taken.

Inspections can include self-inspections performed by trained and knowledgeable in-house staff, which can be coordinated with campus EH&S, or an outside consultant or contractor with specific expertise may perform them. General facility inspections, including review of items such as housekeeping, seismic safety, electrical safety, emergency egress, shop safety, and hazardous material storage, should be performed and documented quarterly as a best practice or annually at a minimum. Facility safety inspection checklists are provided as part of this manual and can be used to document noted hazards and the corrective actions taken to address the finding.

Focused inspections on specialized systems within the facility, such as the counterweight rigging system or tension grid, should be performed based on the frequency of use, manufacturer guidelines, and recommended industry best practice. These systems are typically not inspected or maintained by your Campus Facilities staff, yet they are integral to safety and the routine work that occurs in the facility. At a minimum, the counterweight rigging system should receive a documented, thorough inspection by a knowledgeable person once a year. An in-house staff member with sufficient counterweight rigging system experience and knowledge gained through professional development courses can perform the annual inspection, a comprehensive inspection by a qualified outside contractor is recommended every three to five years.

Hazard identification needs to extend beyond facility inspections and must also include process related safety evaluations. Examples of process-related safety evaluations would be determining and documenting the safe method for dying cloth for a costume, hanging lights from a balcony rail, raising or lowering an actor through a trap door system, or rehearsing a dance routine near the leading edge of an orchestra pit. A number of different approaches can be used to perform these evaluations including a job hazard analysis (JHA) or by using the 5-core safety function approach outlined in the UC Policy on Health, Safety and the Environment.

A JHA describes a task in a detailed step-by-step format, identifies potential hazards with each step, and outlines health and safety controls to minimize injuries or illnesses associated with these steps. The form for documenting a JHA can be as simple as three columns entitled “task,” “hazard,” and “control.” This flexible process and systematic approach can be applied to tasks both large and small. Once completed, the document can be used as a training tool and can be incorporated as part of the written operating procedures for designated jobs or tasks within the facility.

The 5-core safety functions of Integrated Safety and Environmental Management (ISEM) are outlined in the UC Policy on Health, Safety and the Environment. Similar to a JHA, the 5-core safety function approach provides a flexible and systematic way to evaluate a task or process, identify hazards, designate appropriate controls, and review the overall procedure for effectiveness. As outlined in the policy, the degree of rigor in terms of applying the 5-core safety function approach can be adjusted based on the complexity of the task and risk associated with it. In some cases, the 5-core safety function process may be as simple as thinking through and reviewing the steps outlined below as an uncomplicated and relatively low risk task is completed. In cases where greater risk or complexity exists, each step in the process should be documented and reviewed on a regular basis before the project or activity is commenced.

ISEM 5 Core Safety Functions

5 Core Safety Functions Chart

  1. Define the Work or Activity – Clearly defining a task from initiation to completion helps reveal the possible risks, hazards, and environmental impacts associated with the activity. 
  2. Analyze the Hazards – Understanding the risks and hazards enables appropriate planning to protect people, property, and the environment. 
  3. Develop and Implement Hazard Controls – Appropriate controls, authorizations, monitoring, emergency procedures, equipment, and training are established and implemented before work begins. 
  4. Perform Work or Activity - Work begins when identified risks have been eliminated or controlled, and readiness is confirmed. 
  5. Review and Provide Continuous Improvement Feedback – How can we do better next time? From the planning stage to the wrap up, gather feedback, review monitoring results, and look for ways to improve the process. 

Reporting unsafe conditions is another important component of hazard identification and control. Employees have the right to report hazardous workplace conditions without the fear of reprisal from their employer. Your supervisor must provide training and guidance on how to report a workplace hazard and in all cases, these reports can be provided anonymously either to your supervisor or directly to the Campus EH&S office. Most campuses have multiple ways for submitting a hazard alert form including a paper document, an email, or some type of electronic web-based submission process. Your supervisor will review the appropriate hazard alert process for your campus and, specifically, for your department. Examples of unsafe conditions that may need to be reported to your supervisor or EH&S include lack of PPE to perform a task safely, an inoperable emergency eyewash unit that is not being tested regularly, or a frayed electrical cord in the scene shop.

Safety inspections, process-related hazard evaluations (job hazard analysis, the 5-core safety functions), and reporting unsafe conditions are all critical components of systematic hazard identification and control, and they are all valuable processes in creating and maintaining a safe work environment.

IIPP Health & Safety Communication and Training

Supervisors are your first point of contact concerning health and safety information related to the areas where you work and activities you perform. Health and safety information may be distributed via emails, newsletters, or posters, during meetings, or by other suitable methods. Supervisors must provide and review EH&S resource and reference information pertinent to an individual’s job including relevant safety training, Safety Data Sheets (SDS), warning labels, JHA information, emergency response procedures, and safe work practices.

Another important component of training is termed on-the-job training or OJT. OJT is instruction and guidance provided by a supervisor or knowledgeable individual while a job or task is being completed at the workplace. OJT is an important step in the process of an employee or student becoming fully trained and supports the fundamental safety training received by reading information, watching videos, attending instructor-led training, or reviewing on-line material.

The IIPP requires training needs be identified for individuals and applicable operations, that training commensurate with the complexity and hazard of the task be provided, and that training received be documented. Training is required for all new employees, to all individuals before starting a new job, task, or operation, and whenever a process, procedure, material, or equipment is introduced into the work environment that represents a new hazard. Supervisors must receive training in order to recognize and understand the hazards their employees and students may be exposed to, and they must be well versed in the regulations and safe work practices to control these hazards.

The Performing Arts Safety Manual and Codes of Safe Practice can be incorporated into your Campus or unit specific IIPP as a means of:

  • • Identifying training needs for various types of work activities (set construction, costumes, lighting, etc.) within the theater and performing arts 
  • • Documenting safety training including review of the Safety Manual, General Safety Awareness Training Record, and the Codes of Safe Practice 

IIPP Accident Investigation and Injury Reporting

An accident is an unplanned event that results in injury, illness, or property damage. A near miss is an unplanned event that does not result in significant injury, illness, or property damage but had the potential to do so and “almost” happened. An example of a near miss is when a ladder becomes unstable while you are reaching and overextending, but it rights itself, you regain your balance, and you do not fall off the ladder. Both accidents and near misses should be investigated to determine the causes of the event and to reduce or eliminate the hazards that contributed to it.

When accidents occur, employees and students must inform their supervisors immediately so appropriate medical treatment and follow-up procedures can be initiated. In the event of a serious or life threatening injury or illness, 9-1-1 should be called immediately. Once the injured person has been attended to, Campus notifications need to be made to EH&S and Risk Services. In some cases, the Campus has an obligation to notify the California Occupational Safety & Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) regarding a workplace injury, and EH&S can assist with that process. The timeframe for reporting designated serious injuries (death, amputation, disfigurement, concussions, crush injuries, hospitalization > 24 hours) to Cal-OSHA is 8 hours, so prompt notification to your Campus EH&S office is critical. Even if the accident occurs after hours or during the weekend, call your Campus EH&S office main phone number or access the EH&S web site and determine how to reach someone within the office. When in doubt, contact EH&S as soon as possible to determine if Cal-OSHA needs to be called within 8 hours of an accident occurring.

When an employee (staff or faculty) has been injured and requires or requests medical treatment, the Risk Services or Disability Management web site and/or office needs to be consulted so the appropriate workers’ compensation claim forms are completed and submitted within 24 hours of the injury. In all cases, you need to inform your supervisor as soon as possible when an injury or illness occurs or is suspected, and you need to begin completion of the appropriate workers’ compensation claim forms.

Once medical treatment and initial notifications have been made, EH&S or Risk Services may assist supervisors with conducting accident investigations and can provide the appropriate forms and documents to guide the process. In the event of a serious accident, EH&S or Risk Services may take the lead in performing the investigation. In the event of a near miss or minor accident, trained supervisors can complete the process and report the findings to their employees and students. Once accident and near miss investigations are complete, the findings and corrective actions should be reviewed with all employees and staff during a safety meeting.

Accidents causing injuries and illnesses do not happen that frequently and by definition are unplanned and unexpected. Understanding and being familiar with your Campus procedures for responding to an injury and following up with the appropriate notifications and completion of forms is critical. Supervisors need to be trained and understand these processes BEFORE an accident occurs.


Each Campus has developed and implemented its IIPP in a manner that best fits its needs. In all cases, the UC Performing Arts Safety Manual can provide faculty, staff and students a general overview of performing arts hazards and related safe work practices. To access and review your comprehensive Campus or Departmental IIPP, check with your Supervisor, Department Manager, or Campus EH&S office.