Do you give derig the right safety considerations? Event safety advisor, Justin Argent, asks the question

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There is a time we all know well. It’s after the last musical notes drift out from the PA. It’s after the house lights have driven the punters from the gates. It’s before the last truck draws out the loading bay. It’s before we get to sleep. It can last a matter of hours or can drag into days or weeks, depending on the gig. It’s the load out, the derig, the forgotten time.

Promoters, decision makers and often the competent personnel considered vital to the build jump ship the moment the celebratory beer is drunk, their heads half in the next job and half into their well-earned beds. Those left that know what they are doing have pulled hours that a soldier on a battlefield would raise an eyebrow at. The new local crew arriving, if you are lucky enough to get them, are inexperienced and in need of careful supervision. To add to that, the gear was meant to be loaded out and on the road three hours ago; it’s ok though, all the vendors’ offices are ringing every five minutes to remind us of this fact.

It’s into this malaise of high pressure, zero time, even less rest and a serious reduction of expertise and command that we throw more crew than at any other time during the entire project. It’s not surprising that communication can breakdown and tempers can flare. Ten years of good work practice gets booted into the kit box, corners get cut, haste overtakes caution and, inevitably, accidents happen.

The derig can on occasion turn into the wild west, speed restrictions are forgotten, PPE gets buried, machinery operators act like they’re at the dodgems, riggers don’t clip in, crews don’t communicate and safety advisors get sworn at. The laws haven’t changed and the need for safety hasn’t diminished, just no one appears to care anymore. We dedicate so much time and scrutiny to the build and the show itself to ensure that the workforce and the audience are safe but it seems a desperate shame that we do not carry this though to load out sensibly.

I have, of course, painted the worst picture and I don’t want to tar everyone and every show with the same brush. But there is always an element of this attitude and those of you that float around this industry on a wide range of jobs will all be nodding in agreement at the scene above. It can happen in fields, conference halls or arenas. Indeed, many of you will have witnessed the blood and sadness that can occur when this unpleasant mix goes bad. It does happen, let’s stop collectively forgetting about it and face it head on, manage the problem and move forward. So here is what we should do:

  • Own it. The derig is as much a part of the event as the build and the show itself. We must accept our responsibility to safety and the welfare of our crews and colleagues. A Health and Safety Executive rep turning up on the derig is going to view the job in the same way regardless, we need to do the same. It is our responsibility.
  • Plan for it. Most of the industry players in the UK and Europe now have pretty good risk assessments and method statements for how they plan to put the show up. Let’s start figuring out the risks and devising safe methods for taking it down safely. Let’s start recording those plans and carry out the same process. This means build phase design and production meetings specifically about derig.
  • Acknowledge it takes time. There is a perception that it’s merely the build in reverse and somehow this only takes 10 minutes. It is true it doesn’t need technical knowhow in the way that the show does, it doesn’t even need the attention to detail that the build does. But it is complex, there is less space, and more people working.
  • Realise people get tired and work in solutions. We have all worked long shifts, we do it for a multitude of reasons, the show must go on, camaraderie, masochism, martyrism… all of these reasons don’t change the fact that exhaustion ruins critical thinking and the ability to make good decisions. We need hand overs, shift changes, better sharing of knowledge with subordinates so they can hold the fort whilst critical people REST. Oh and telling an 18-year-old they don’t have a hotel after working their butts off for you for 24 hours non-stop and expecting them to drive home safely is not ok, never.

We all pat ourselves on the back regularly about how much safety in this industry has improved in the last 20 years, and rightly so, it has. But we need to take a look at the forgotten time and treat it with respect it needs. We can improve this.