Is Your Church Prepared for Rigging Liability?

by | Lighting, Lighting Connections, Production

Even if you have a staff member with rigging experience, you should think twice about how safe your rigging is. One of the greatest benefits to using a certified rigger is that they are licensed, insured, and bonded. Overhead suspension (also known as “rigging” in professional circles) of loudspeakers is a task that many church audio installations have in common.  Since rigging speakers can be both difficult and dangerous, it’s surprising that “do-it-yourselfers” sometimes create and install their own rigging, unaware that they may be using unsafe methods and materials. Just because it may be physically possible to suspend speaker enclosures overhead without professional guidance or proper materials, that does not necessarily mean it’s safe. Absence of a disastrous rigging failure may simply mean that the church has been lucky so far. People sitting under unsafely suspended speakers may be in danger of injury or death.

Many churches have personnel with the knowledge and experience to do most of their own AV integration work. “Do it yourself” work can save a lot of money, and can provide important background and experience for those volunteers who will eventually be running their systems. No doubt, if someone helped install a system, they’re much more likely to understand how it works.

One area where churches should rarely if ever rely on in-house talent is rigging. There are three things to consider when it comes to rigging: the science, the safety and the liability.

Even if you have some experience with rigging production equipment—in other words, you understand much of the science and safety—are you prepared to take on the liability?

Consider an audio system. You can have the right set of speakers for the room, installed in the correct positions, but if the angles are not right (pan, tilt, and yaw or X, Y, and Z), then the room will not be properly covered. Think about it: Today science allows us to be so much more accurate with the placement of audio. It really is incredible how much technology has progressed, and now we are able to make cheaper systems sound better simply because of placement. However, if you don’t know the math behind the science then you can’t take advantage of today’s technology. But to take full advantage of the technology, you have to know the science behind it.

Not-so-obvious basics

Over the years, I have came across many churches with unsafe lighting rigs and speaker hangs. No doubt they used someone with no sense of the science or technology of rigging. Without that sense, rigging seems pretty simple. Most people don’t realize, for instance, that if you have aircraft cable that can carry a 500-pound load but you hang something at an angle, it no longer supports that load. The more narrow the angle the less the cable will support.

Another great example is hardware. Hardware is one of the most important things to look at when it comes to hanging a lighting truss or a loudspeaker. You can’t just walk into a hardware store like Lowe’s or Home Depot and assume their carabiners are designed for your application. The fact is that carabiners are created differently to do different tasks. If you’re not a certified rigger you’ll likely use the wrong carabiners, the wrong clamps, the wrong aircraft cable, and the wrong eyebolts. Hardware is no joke.

Of course, all of this applies to hanging things like projectors too. It doesn’t mean that your volunteers are unintelligent; it just means they weren’t trained to do this specific task.

Liability

So, are you thinking to yourself, “I know the science. I even understand the right hardware to use. What else do I need to think about before I start hanging?” The answer: liability. It’s important for all tech directors, and more importantly, for all pastors and administrators to know that when you have volunteers rig a speaker, a projector or even a lighting bar in your building, you are taking on the liability for the church if it falls. That’s right, the church is responsible. One of the greatest benefits to using a certified rigger is that they are licensed, insured and bonded.

A safely rigged church installation should include a written plan, professional engineering, speakers that are designed to be rigged and have all necessary data provided by the manufacturer, complete and appropriate insurance, rated hardware, and no improvisation. Whoever performs the work of installing speakers suspended overhead should carry all applicable insurance.  Find out what the insurance requirements are in the state where the work is done.  Professional installation contractors will have this insurance. This means that if anything were to happen to the rigging that they installed, they would be responsible for the liability, not the church. If you choose not to hire a certified, licensed rigger, please know that there have been multiple churches that have literally had to shut down because people who hung things, despite their good intentions, created a tragedy that caused a lawsuit. This is not the type of story you want to tell about your church. Remember to keep your church safe and free from liability.

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