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Thread: Advice please

  1. #1
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    Sep 2014
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    Laser Warning Advice please

    We were booked in to set up a show at a festival last Wednesday evening. Long story short the lighting company had gone home and had left us no room at all to mount at an appropriate height for the outer 2 lasers, we had 5 all in all. We called in someone who had the appropriate experience with stage trussing who was in touch with the lighting company, he called them and briefed them on the situation and instructed them to look after us. We also called the events management company person who was in charge of the area and informed him of the situation, he said that we could not finish setting up and to come back tomorrow when the lighting guys were around. He did say he would ask the lightings guys to move their lights down the trussing so our Lasers could go up near the top.


    The next day... The person who seemed to be in charge of the lighting crew and who had been asked to look after us turned up and was less than helpful until he got another call from the same person much later on. This is by the by really but he said he hated lasers and they should have been left in the eighties where they belong and this was the attitude I was dealing with. He was not prepared to move any of their lighting despite being told the only space on their trussing was too low and proceeded to mount one of our lasers for us in the only space that was available on his rigging, he told me to do the same on the other side of the stage. I reported back to the person from the events management company and reiterated that the Lasers were too low and needed moving. He said just to point them upwards and to leave them there.


    Another senior LSO was called in when we were not present. He did not see the lasers powered up, just the positioning and we were told that he cleared the set up.


    Thursday evening setup


    We arrived to set up and there were people around the the marquee. The leading act was rehearsing his performance and halfway through the electric from the generator cut out. When they got the power back up we informed the few people present the lasers were being powered up. Everytime we powered up it was a matter of minutes before the generator cut out again. This went on for quite some time and did not give us the opportunity to get the line up and symmetry of the lasers anywhere near to the perfection that we would have liked. That said I was happy enough that we were above the crowd.


    I was feeling very uneasy about this setup and communicated this with all the relevant parties who did not respond accordingly apart from calling in the other LSO for an opinion. I have written to him but so far got no response.


    Friday the opening night


    All I could go on at this point was my own experience and the experience of others who I had observed in similar situations and make a judgment call. I have been told by several other LSO's that I made the right call and followed the correct protocol and that this should have been OK, one person I spoke with would have refused to power up, and other feedback as well leading me to feel that this is a very grey area. I can't go back and the important thing is that I learn from this, get all the advise I can, and make sure it's done right in the future.


    I arrived on site and before we powered up I briefed the person in charge of health and safety for the stage. He actually informed me the it was just a DJ set and no one would be in that area. I briefed the staff/crew from the company that were putting on the show, and most importantly I briefed the dancers, and yes, it was my intention to put the fear of god up them which I believe I managed to convey. I pointed out where the lasers were on stage and warned them that any eye contact could cause blindness.


    The issue arrived at the end of the night. One of the dancers did step in front of a 3w RGB laser. While the rest of the dancers were spinning around, she was not. The choreography had been based on my briefing and seemed to have been conducted very professionally. Event control were less than happy that this had occurred and said that I should have hit the kill switch. I did explain the situation to him and that the dancers were fully briefed and aware of the situation.


    Really I am asking everyone I can for their opinion regarding how I handled this situation. All I can do is learn from this and take on any instruction and advice from my peers for the future, about the big issue and about how to deal with the whole nightmare setup scenario and how others would have dealt with it. How to deal with other crews and event management companies when I really did put my foot down and was ignored. Sure I've been told this scenario was OK by others I respect, but I think next time I would handle it very differently.


    On an end note I have been told the show was a huge success and no one got hurt, the dancers followed my lead and everything was OK. But I'm here in Ireland and how I learn is via reading & studying as much as I can, the forum, the ILDA email list and website and communication with other laserist's and LSO's. So any feedback good or bad on this would be very welcome.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
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    Hey Jasper;

    We've already discussed this in private, but now that we are discussing things in the open I'd like to comment here. I do agree that any show where the crowd is happy, the performer is happy, and no one gets hurt is a successful show. And given that I am in the United States, where lawyers are found in greater numbers than just about anywhere else on the planet, I am probably looking at this incident with a more critical eye towards safety than others in Europe might. Also, I want to state that I am not trying to call you out here. I've made similar mistakes, and I'm sure everyone on this forum has done more than a few things incorrectly at some point. But if we talk about our mistakes here, we can all learn something.

    Also, I feel that if you are the one being paid to perform the laser show, you are by default the LSO in charge. So if you don't think something is safe and someone else says "No - really, it's OK....", you still have the right to do things your way. After all, if there is someone else claiming to be the LSO at a venue, why aren't they the one doing the lasers? This is your show, with your equipment, and it's your ass that is on the line. So in that instance, it doesn't really matter if someone else at the venue says "yeah, I think this is safe..." It needs to be your call.

    Of course, here on the forum you can get opinions from lots of qualified LSOs, and even a few industrial laser safety experts (Paging James Stewart!). And I would certainly listen closely to anything they had to offer. But in the end, there's nothing wrong with being more conservative. Because at the end of the day, if anything goes wrong, they're going to come to you for an explanation. Not some guy on an internet forum!

    Now to the meat of the issue: In my mindset, if someone is able to get their body in front of a running laser projector, you have already screwed up as an operator. And at that point the only responsible action is to hit the kill switch. Granted, a 3 watt RGB projector isn't exactly the death star, but it can cause immediate, permanent eye injury at that range. Once the dancer was clear of the area, you could have re-started the show with no further issues. (Assuming you were able to get the dancer off that part of the stage, that is.) But in my opinion the proper action would have been to terminate the show immediately, and then work on clearing the dancer from the area.

    There was a recent incident at an ILDA conference where a projector unintentionally sent a sweeping high power beam down low into the crowd. This was caused by one of the legs of the support structure sinking into the soft dirt after it slid off the flat platform it had been on. No one was injured, and the laserist in charge knew that the beam would never go that low again for the rest of the show, so he made a decision to let the show continue rather than hitting the kill switch. Lots of people disagreed with that, including me. I believe that if a problem occurs, your first job is to put everything in a safe state. Then you can start looking into what happened (and why), and how to fix the problem. And if it turns out to be something simple, then you can re-start the show in a matter of seconds.

    The problem with your event is that it was a new environment for you, with lots of other things going wrong, and in the interest of "the show must go on", you decided to cut a corner on safety. (By allowing dancers on stage when the projector was low enough to put them in the beam path.) If it were me, I would have demanded a physical barrier be placed on stage to prevent people from getting that close. Another solution might have been to contact a local rental shop and see if you could snag a couple tripods to mount the projectors on. (That would have given you the height you needed.) Or worst case, just don't run those two other projectors when people are on stage and do the show with 3 instead of 5 projectors.

    There's no need to walk off the job in a case like this. There were certainly ways you could have still done the show without exposing anyone. But you were no doubt under a lot of pressure, plus the headlining act was a good friend of yours, so that also added to your stress level. The need to pull off "an awesome show" was very high. But that's a dangerous situation, because that's when you are likely to make a bad choice. Fortunately, it all ended well, but moving forward I think you have a better idea of how to avoid this sort of thing next time.

    And again, I'm not trying to berate you for this. I've done things far worse than paint the back of a dancer with a projector for a second or two! (When I think back to some of the galactically-stupid things we did at the very first SELEM, I just cringe...) We all make mistakes. But next time I think it would be better if you hit the kill switch. (Or better yet, arrange your projectors so this can't happen in the first place.)

    Adam

  3. #3
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    Sep 2014
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    Cork, Ireland
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    Hi Adam,

    Thanks for your post and for your private message. I think you were the person I referred to who said they wouldn't have powered up. I've written to everyone I can regarding this show and got quite a mixed response. I've even heard that some shows are done like this on purpose for effect, but is it worth trusting the dancers even when they have been briefed when so much is at stake. I may have made the right call this time or not, but I don't think I will let myself be put in that position again. As you said myself and my partner were the senior LSO's there. We may not have the experience that many people here would have in these situations but we needed to have been listened to. I have also heard reports from others who have experienced similar problems with the other lighting crews and egos on site. I want to say next time we will put our foot down harder, but I felt that we had done that this time. Your stance of refusing to power up would have been the only other option. I also think the health and safety person in charge did not take our warnings seriously enough although he was told in no uncertain terms. He was very quick to tell people if they were over stretching on ladders etc... There was no way once the show started for me or my partner to get to the stage, we were at the back of the marquee with the lighting and sound desk. There was a huge crowd in the marquee and spilling out for a long way all around. We were well and truly boxed in. This issue with the dancer arose right at the end of the performance, despite being briefed I think she wanted to do this for effect and was extremely careful. That said I don't mind anyone pulling me up on this and giving their opinion good or bad. The important thing is to get people's views and learn as much as possible from this, for myself and anyone else who may happen to be reading this who finds themselves in a similar situation.

    Quote Originally Posted by buffo View Post
    (Paging James Stewart!).
    Have already emailed and got an answer from James and value his opinion and feedback.

    Thanks,

    Jasper
    Last edited by gandalfthegrey; 09-12-2015 at 06:46.

  4. #4
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    I just got some very good advice from someone via email regarding this scenario and how to avoid some of these problems from happening in the future. We were not given the time or space to set up this show as we would have liked. This advise reflects what I was thinking when I left the site. Some terms and conditions that the event managment company had to sign off on when the booking was made, rather than verbal instructions that were ignored.

    If anyone has any ideas or templates on this to share I'd be very grateful. Here the email I received.

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ _

    Hi, my 2 cents. Keep in mind I do not do shows. Obviously as your experience indicates, a lot can change or go wrong onsite, and ultimately you have to make a judgement call.

    The first thing is to have a contract which clearly states the laser requirements for safety and legality. Stress in the contract that if, due to circumstances beyond your control one or more of the following occurs, you may be required by law and health-and-safety considerations to shut down the lasers either in part or in whole, and that you will still be paid since the problem was not caused by you.

    The lasers are not physically mounted as per the contract requirements (they may be too low, or aimed at a hazardous area such as one with people, etc.)

    You are not provided sufficient set up time to determine the beam locations and safety considerations

    Performers do not follow instructions, or otherwise may come too close to laser beams during the performance.

    The audience goes outside of areas that had been marked during rehearsal, and thus may be exposed to laser beams.

    Other things that I may not have thought of right off <g>.

    Further, specify who makes the decision about safety. State in the contract that decisions about safety will be made by yourselves, as trained laser safety experts who are legally responsible for the safe operation of your lasers. If they should bring in an outside LSO, and the LSO disagrees with your assessment (e.g., wants you to do something unsafe, that 1) you may do this if the LSO personally signs a written document stating that the show is safe and he/she takes full responsibility for anything that may happen and 2) you still retain the right to stop one or more lasers if conditions go outside those discussed with the LSO.

    Hopefully all this can be worded to sound like legal boilerplate and not a reason for the client to say "Too much trouble, I won't hire lasers". Which actually may be good in situations where the client and his suppliers are incompetent and are going to lead you into trouble -- you don't want to work for them!

    I would also have multiple kill switches, so that some lasers can be turned off (such as on the stage) in case of trouble while others can continue (such as over the crowd). In such a case I'd have two or more laser operators/observers so that if one person is watching the stage closely, another person can continue watching other lasers.

    Greg's comments about performers being a laser safety system is a good one. In summary, if the risk is relatively small, the performers are mature and competent, what they are doing to stay safe is simple ("always look downstage"), and there is someone watching all the time with a kill switch, then scanning onto performers may be morally right. It may not be legal in the jurisdiction, but at least you have taken into account all these factors.

    Coming back to the contract for a moment, you may also want to get 50% (or more) upfront, prior to installation of the lasers. I don't know what the norm is for lighting and sound, but hopefully there is some upfront money. Obviously, if the promoter or other suppliers make the lasers unsafe to use, at least you have some money from the gig.

    You may want to work with a qualified LSO, someone such as James Stewart, to have them on call as a backup or an advisor in case of disputes between you and the promoter. It is one thing if you say "I can't do this because it is unsafe", it is another thing to say, "OK, we are going to bring in someone with major laser safety experience for A-level tours, and get his opinion."

    Again, I do not perform shows so some of these may not be feasible. But keep in mind that just as a pyro person would not do a show if the conditions were not right (the walls are covered in flammable foam), a laser person should not be expected to do a show if they are not provided with adequate conditions as well.
    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ _

    Thanks

  5. #5
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    That's great advice. Now, anyone know of any existing, boilerplate, contracts that we could use/re-use for this purpose?

  6. #6
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    asshole lighting guys, bad power, disorganized event, setup on the very edge of being unsafe... sounds like a normal show to me

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by flecom View Post
    asshole lighting guys, bad power, disorganized event, setup on the very edge of being unsafe... sounds like a normal show to me
    HAHA! That's the truth though...

    Quote Originally Posted by hitekvoop View Post
    That's great advice. Now, anyone know of any existing, boilerplate, contracts that we could use/re-use for this purpose?
    I normally write the contract custom for each gig. That way I can include details from the site survey...

    Adam

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by buffo View Post
    HAHA! That's the truth though...
    yep, I've done shows with one hand on the e-stop and the other on the computer at all times lol

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