Safety First: Preparing For Worst-Case Scenarios On The Road

Toby Keith's Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert in 2013
Toby Keith's Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert in 2013(Rick Diamond, Getty Images)

Sound reinforcement can be a dangerous job. Despite the best precautions, working at breakneck speeds, with heavy equipment and electricity, in unfamiliar environments, or in the elements can be a recipe for disaster. In 2017, there were 45 major staging and rigging accidents alone. And as recent tragic events have shown, the scope of concert safety concerns grows broader (and more terrifying) all of the time, from weather catastrophes to terrorist attacks.

There’s no way to avoid every hazard out there. That said, safety is everyone’s responsibility, so as you ramp up for the summer touring season, now’s a great time to take stock of your team’s safety plans. A little advance preparation outlining best practices for minimizing risk will go a long way toward protecting you and your fellow crew and avoiding preventable problems.

We’ve put together a few refreshers to help you get the conversation started. How do you address safety on the road? Let us know in the comments!

Avoiding Personal Injury

You may not be able to control the weather, but you can control the way you treat your own body. Taking a few simple precautions can prevent injuries that could sideline you for a long time—or worse. Lifting with your knees is Rule Number One for transporting audio gear. Wear closed-toed shoes and put on gloves when you’re loading in and out. (Luke Bryan crews wear helmets while the stage goes up.) Your ears are your livelihood; protecting them is crucial. When you’re out in the summer heat, make sure you stay hydrated (drink water before you’re thirsty), and watch your crew buddies for signs of dehydration and heatstroke. Get as much rest as you can, to stay sharp on the gig.

It’s not a bad idea for someone on the crew to be trained in first-aid. Keep first aid kits in vehicles and in accessible areas during events. And always leave rigging and forklift driving to properly trained professionals!

Respect Electricity

It doesn’t take much current to kill a person, and if you don’t know how to handle power distribution, you shouldn’t expect to get up to speed by reading a blog post. But as far as general practices, keep an eye out for damaged equipment, signs of water, and improper ground lifts. Cover power cords with cable covers or ramps or run them through a cable bridge. If you’re using a generator, be sure it’s properly grounded.

Fire Danger

Anyone who’s seen Spinal Tap knows that venue layouts can be incredibly convoluted. Make sure entry and exit points are clearly identified and accessible. Never store gear or cases in the path of a fire exit. Find out where the nearest fire extinguishers are, and make sure they’re in working condition. For special events, do a walkthrough with local fire officials.

Toby Keith's Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert in 2013

Violent Incidents

Recent terrorist attacks have demonstrated that any crowded place is a potential target. While venues everywhere are beefing up security, it’s on everyone to stay vigilant and watch for suspicious activity, from unauthorized people and vehicles in secure areas to questionable bags and containers. If you see something, say something; it’s better to raise a false alarm than to suffer an incident. Mark your own cases and belongings clearly and get your crew to do the same. (For insight on protecting yourself during an active attack, see the Event Safety Alliance’s Counter-Terrorism Advice for Touring Crews.)

Being safe is all about thinking ahead, and practicing situational awareness, and making safety part of the conversation—with your team, with the venue, with local officials. Check out the resources below for more ways to stay safe on the road.

Concert Safety Resources

The Event Safety Alliance’s Event Safety Guide

Health and Safety Executive’s Practicing Situational Awareness

OSHA Publications: Working Safely With Electricity, Protecting Workers From Heat Effects, Portable Ladder Safety, Fall Protection

The Events Industry Forum’s The Purple Guide: Health, Safety and Welfare at Music and Other Events

Sarah Jones is a writer, editor, and content producer with more than 20 years' experience in pro audio, including as editor-in-chief of three leading audio magazines: MixEQ, and Electronic Musician. She is a lifelong musician and committed to arts advocacy and learning, including acting as education chair of the San Francisco chapter of the Recording Academy, where she helps develop event programming that cultivates the careers of Bay Area music makers.

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