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Lawmakers seek stage-safety rules that small events can handle

September 27, 2012

Lawmakers pondering new rules for the type of temporary outdoor stage rigging involved in the 2011 deadly Indiana State Fair stage collapse said Thursday they want to make sure the state doesn't overburden smaller events.

A legislative committee met at the Statehouse to review emergency rules the state imposed earlier this year, along with international guidelines that may become a model for national regulation. The committee will recommend permanent rules to the General Assembly.

"We want assurances every county fair isn't going to be treated like the Super Bowl," Democratic Rep. Bill Davis of Portland told State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson, who was reporting to the panel on the progress of the emergency rules. Greeson's office enforces the emergency rules, which the Fire and Building Safety Commission adopted in May under orders from the Legislature.

Indiana has few events on the scale of the state fair or big-name concerts that might use the larger stages that require such tight regulation, Davis said. "I just want some kind of assurance that we're not going to try to regulate Lucas Oil stadium in Jay County or Dubois County or wherever," he said.

Greeson said the state wouldn't require temporary stages to comply with all the regulations as long as they met size and weight limits and no more than 12 people were on them at a time. "That would cover most small venues," he said. Stages set up on the back of haywagons, pickup trucks or similar vehicles are also exempt if they don't exceed certain limits, he said.

Event organizers also would be exempt if they create a buffer zone keeping people out of an area around their stages that extends 8 feet beyond the height of the rigging to protect fans in case of a collapse. That exemption would apply only to temporary outdoor stage equipment that does not extend higher than 20 feet above the stage surface.

"We don't want to overburden. We don't want to overregulate. But we all want the event to be done safely," Greeson said.

Randy Brown, general manager of Fort Wayne's Memorial Coliseum, said he heard discussion of temporary stage safety all over the world when he traveled last year as chairman of the International Association of Venue Managers.

"We're not at the final step in this process," Brown said. "We need to have a set of criteria that can be translated across all 50 states."

A group of entertainment industry leaders is studying an event safety guide, commonly called "The Purple Guide," that's been in place in the United Kingdom for about 20 years to determine if it could serve as the basis for a U.S. plan.

Tim Roberts, the director and safety adviser for Event Safety Shop Ltd., in Bristol, said the guide wasn't geared only to "the U2s and the Rolling Stones," but smaller events as well.

"It's flexible. It's adaptable," he said.

The August 2011 state fair accident killed seven people and injured nearly 60 others before a scheduled Sugarland concert. Two investigative reports found that the stage rigging that collapsed in high winds did not meet industry safety standards and that fair officials lacked a fully developed emergency plan.

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