Theater Production Safety
Each year, United Educators (UE) receives a number of claims arising from theater production incidents. But proper planning can help your K-12 school, college, or university prevent falls from stages, injuries from props, and fires.
Once you choose a production, assess its risks and the theater’s physical space. Consider these actions:
- Identify if your equipment and effects require a permit from the fire marshal or special permission from the theater. Examples may include pyrotechnics, special effects (fog machine or lasers), or dangerous props (swords or fly riggings).
- Create pre- and post-production safety checklists. They encourage assessment of potentially hazardous conditions such as spilled liquid, props that may become tripping hazards, improperly maintained stair treads, or unsecured lighting or ladders.
- Confirm that set builders have been properly trained in equipment and power tool use. Provide personal protective equipment for all participants in construction and rigging activities.
- Identify whether there is adequate fire protection if your production uses open flames or pyrotechnics. This includes the need for a fire curtain. Confirm the location and operability of fire extinguishers. Create a fire safety and evacuation plan for backstage.
As set construction begins, ensure the production supervisor is prepared to:
- Confirm that all props and decorations are made from a commercial noncombustible material or treated with an appropriate flame retardant.
- Store all sets, props, and costumes securely and away from sprinklers and heating units.
- Monitor and enforce the use of protective gear such as goggles or gloves — particularly when creating or moving set components and decorations.
- Use proper lifting techniques, hand trucks, or carts when moving heavy items.
- Secure electrical and extension cords to avoid tripping hazards.
- Secure and inspect all lighting riggings.
- Keep walkways and all exits clear of set materials and props.
- Create a plan to properly disassemble and dispose of sets and construction materials when they’re no longer needed.
Integrate safety checks and risk avoidance into the performance. Consider whether:
- Someone reviewed stage directions and clearly marked for the performers stage edges, stairs, orchestra pits, and trap doors.
- Stage weapons are securely stored when not in use.
- Performers work to avoid personal injury by engaging in appropriate warm-ups and cool-downs for their performances.
- Performers have adequate hydration available and the theater is maintained at an appropriate temperature.
- Makeup kits are provided for each performer and, to avoid contamination, are clearly labeled with the performer’s name. Confirm that props and other costumes are cleaned or disinfected after each performance.
About the Author
Heather Salko, Esq.
Manager of Risk Research
Heather oversees the development of risk research publications. Her areas of expertise include employment law, Title IX, and student mental health. Before joining the Risk Research team, she practiced employment and insurance coverage law and handled UE liability claims for more than a decade.