Performer flying and aerial stunts
During performer flying and aerial stunts there is a much greater chance of injury in the event of an accident than during normal performance activities. An employer has a general duty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker (clause 25(2)(h) of the OHSA).
There are many different types of performer flying and aerial stunts. Most of them can be rigged in a variety of ways. This document will not deal with the specific technical details of the various types of rigging. Instead, it will provide general guidelines for the principles of safe design, risk assessment, rehearsal, and performance. It will deal with ropes, lines and cables as flying devices, but only regarding general safety provisions that apply to all aerial work.
All systems, equipment and structural components should be designed in accordance with good engineering practices.
Reference must always be made to the OHSA and its regulations. Reference should also be made, as appropriate, to the Working at Heights, Rigging Systems and Fall Arrest, and Mechanised Scenery and Automated Systems Guidelines set out in the Safety Guidelines for the Live Performance Industry in Ontario.
Note: The definitions which are not from the Occupational Health and Safety Act or its regulations are provided for clarity and guidance for this guideline only.
- Aerial stunts
- Manoeuvres or tricks assisted by line, rope, cable, or other mechanical device, where the performer has control over the speed or direction of travel. Aerial stunts may include gymnastics and fighting with props or weapons.
- Aerial arena
- Any space through which a suspended performer travels. Also called fly area.
- Aerial stunt coordinator
- A person responsible for designing, choreographing and executing flying effects; and coordinating and staging all aerial stunts. May also function as a flying director, rigger, or operator. An aerial stunt coordinator should be a competent person as defined in OHSA.
- Competent person
- As defined in subsection 1(1) of the OHSA: “A person who (a) is qualified because of knowledge, training and experience to organize the work and its performance, (b) is familiar with this Act and the regulations that apply to the work, and (c) has knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the workplace.”
- Control system
- The system or equipment used to govern or operate the fly system.
- Drop zone
- The area into which props, costume pieces, and other items may fall while the aerial effect is in action.
- Dry tech
- A rehearsal or testing session wherein portions (or all) of the technical operation of a show (lighting, sound, automation, etc.) are reviewed and executed to ensure proper and reliable function of all elements. Dry tech rehearsals do not involve performers, except to the extent required for a sequence (such as a scene change) to be properly executed.
- For the purpose of this guideline, any performer flying or aerial stunt.
- Fall arrest (aka hands-off catch)
- Any system used to prevent an unintended fall in the event of operator or performer error. (So called because it is designed to prevent a fall even if the operator or performer were to take both hands off the line.)
- Flying director
- A person responsible for designing, choreographing and executing flying effects for performance entertainment. May also function as an aerial stunt coordinator, rigger, or operator. A flying director should be a competent person as defined in OHSA.
- Fly system
- Any mechanical or manual system used to fly a performer.
- Load-in point
- The area where the performer hooks up to the flying system.
- Loading zone. (Lift zone)
- The space directly above or below the point at which the performer is initially suspended or lifted.
- A competent person responsible for running the equipment/system.
- Passive secondary
- A back-up component of a rigging system that takes weight only if the load-bearing component fails. Also called a redundancy system.
- Performer flying
- (1) The operator-controlled raising, lowering, or travelling of a performer who is suspended by line, rope, cable, or other mechanical device, where the performer has little or no control over the speed or direction of travel.
(2) The raising, lowering, or travelling of a performer, where the performer is also the operator and has direct control over the supporting device.
- A competent person responsible for the installation and maintenance of the flying equipment.
- A person who has a direct line of sight to the performer and can communicate directly with the operator and/or stage manager.
"Competent person" is defined in subsection 1(1) of the OHSA.
All parties involved in performer flying or aerial stunts should know who is responsible for each aspect of the effect. The title of the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator may vary, but that person should have the appropriate experience, expertise and ability to ensure a safe and secure work environment in order to give people the ability to create their art. In some cases, the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator should also consult with a structural engineer when designing and building the system, and then consult with riggers and operators who will be involved in the assembly and performance of the system. An employer is required to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker (clause 25(2)(h) of the OHSA).
With regard to performer flying and aerial stunts, all workplace parties involved should have the knowledge and training (through adequate rehearsal) to operate and perform the effect safely (clause 25(2)(a) of the OHSA). A worker or a person in authority over a worker must also be aware of any possible hazards involved in operating or executing the effect (clause 25(2)(d) of the OHSA).
Note: The flying director/aerial stunt coordinator should be consulted where one type of equipment or action is substituted for another, to ensure the safety of all workplace parties involved in the effect is at least as great as it would be without the substitution.
Design and construction
- Depending on the nature of the work, the Construction Projects Regulation (O. Reg. 213/91) made under the OHSA may apply at workplaces that are otherwise governed by the Industrial Establishments Regulation (Regulation 851). For example, the Construction Projects Regulation may apply during the erection and installation of a fly system. The Industrial Establishments Regulation applies while fly systems are in operation in rehearsal and performance. Constructors, employers, supervisors and workers, among others, have an obligation to know and comply with the regulations that apply to their workplace. Fly systems should be designed:
- for simplicity and reliability in operation, and durability in repeated use. An employer has a duty to ensure that any equipment, materials and protective devices are maintained in good condition (clause 25(1)(b) of the OHSA);
- to ensure predictability and repeatability of motion;
- to include a passive secondary that takes weight only if the load-bearing component fails; and
- to include a control option to easily permit movement outside the cue sequence in an emergency.
- Conduct load calculations with due regard to the load capabilities of the components (clause 25(1)(e) of OHSA).
- In the case of manually-operated fly systems, ensure movement and control of the performer are within the physical capabilities of the operator(s) and performer. The system should be designed with a back-up in the event the operator fails to support the performer.
- Ensure hardware and other technology is appropriate and adequate for the intended use.
- Equipment used (ropes, lines, cables, harnesses and hardware) should be designed with appropriate safety factor to support the weight of the performer comfortably and to bear live loads (clause 25(1)(e) of OHSA). The equipment should be manufactured for that purpose or be of an equivalent standard. The flying director/aerial stunt coordinator should approve the use of all equipment and consult with any riggers or operators who will be involved with the construction and/or performance of the stunt.
- Flying and aerial stunt harnesses should be designed and fitted for the purpose and be specific to the performer’s size and weight and must comply with the requirements set out in section 85 of the Industrial Establishments Regulation. The harness is part of the rigging, not part of the costume. Any costume elements worn over the harness should not impair the vision, mobility and/or safety of the performer and must be in compliance with section 83 of the Industrial Establishments Regulation. No part of the costume should be attached to the harness without the express permission of the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator and only in the manner in which he/she approves and without impairing any function of the fall arrest system.
- Costumes, wigs and props required to be used or worn by the performer should be presented to the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator in sufficient time for evaluation and to determine if such items will impact the safety of the effect and whether they are in compliance with section 83 of the Industrial Establishments Regulation. Final safety approval rests with the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator.
- Performers on flying props and scenery must be secured to the prop by cables and harnesses in compliance with section 85 of the Industrial Establishments Regulation.
- Equipment should be rated at a minimum breaking strength to load ratio of 10 to 1.
- All structural components should be designed with appropriate safety factors.
- Ensure proper guarding of operating controls that might be activated unintentionally.
- Use proper guarding of moving parts that might pose a hazard. The Industrial Establishments Regulation sets out guarding requirements (see sections 24–34).
- Ensure adequate clearance between the performer and their equipment, and any other element or structure (section 12 of the Industrial Establishments Regulation).
- If needed, there should be a firm base (platform or scaffolding) from which to fly. These units must be properly designed and secured so that they do not move and can support any loads that may be applied to it (clause 25(1)(e) of the OHSA).
- Compile documentation on equipment capability, operation instructions and safety warnings including identifying hazards, to be made available to operators.
- Establish a plan for response, rescue and recovery in the event of breakdown of any mechanised element. Rescue plans and procedures (including how to rescue a suspended performer) should be developed specifically for the system in use.
- The manual controls should be clearly labelled, and easy to understand and use. Operators shall know and understand how to use the controls (clause 25(2)(a) of the OHSA).
- There should be clear access to the load-in point for the performer and operator.
- There should be sufficient visibility to hook up, check and operate the flying systems properly.
- The drop zone, fly area (aerial arena) and landing point will be clear of obstruction according to the instructions of the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator (section 11 of the Industrial Establishments Regulation).
- A fall arrest system should be incorporated into the rigging system. The system must comply with section 85 of the Industrial Establishments Regulation and should include a method of safe retrieval of the performer or operator if the fall arrest system is used.
- A reliable communication system between the performer, operator and ground crew should be established and agreed upon.
- The operator should be in a position that is secure and free from obstruction and distraction.
- When the operator is unable to hook up the performer, a competent person should be assigned to do so by the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator.
- Static or fixed lines intended for active loads such as swinging or climbing should not be tied off directly to abrasive structures that may damage or weaken the primary lines (clause 25(1)(b) of the OHSA). Components such as webbing, rope or cable, which are susceptible to wear due to abrasion, should be backed up with a passive secondary.
- Passive secondaries should be used when tying off load-bearing lines or ropes and should be installed in positions that will minimize the shock load if any load-bearing point fails.
- The use of poles, bars, hydraulics, etc. and other specialized flying systems that are not required under the OHSA or its regulations to use fall arrest and passive secondaries should include adequate precautions under expert supervision to ensure performer safety.
Training and rehearsal
- All aerial stunts and flying systems should have an assigned rigger or flying director/aerial stunt coordinator. If the assigned rigger or flying director/aerial stunt coordinator is not part of the running crew or cast, he/she should train a replacement to carry out harness fitting, as well as pre-performance testing and inspection of all flying systems and equipment and to schedule any necessary aerial stunt or fly call before the performance.
- Each performer should be notified of potential performer flying and aerial stunts prior to engagement. The engager should consider the concerns, capabilities and physical fitness of the performers and may request advice from the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator prior to casting.
- The employer, flying director/aerial stunt coordinator and performer should share any information (such as a fear of heights) or conditions (such as a previous injury) that would restrict the performer’s ability to execute the aerial stunt.
- The flying director/aerial stunt coordinator should review the schedule in consultation with the employer to ensure that adequate time is provided based on the show requirements and the capabilities of the operator and performer. The operator, performer and spotter (if used) should be given adequate training and rehearsal time with a rigger or flying director/aerial stunt coordinator (clause 25(2)(a) of OHSA).
- In consultation with the creative team and the stage manager, the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator should determine whether safety requires the restriction of observers in the rehearsal area.
- There should be sufficient time to integrate the effects into the action of the full production, with all its performers and movement of scenery.
- If understudies or back-up operators are used, they should have full training and rehearsal with the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator, equal to that of the person they are replacing (clause 25(2)(a) of OHSA).
- If replacements other than trained understudies or back-up operators are used, a risk assessment of effects should be conducted with the replacements in mind, before the rehearsal/training period.
- If replacements other than trained understudies or back-up operators are used, the same flying director/aerial stunt coordinator should be hired for the rehearsal/training period, if possible; otherwise a competent person, chosen in consultation with the original flying director/aerial stunt coordinator, should be hired.
- If stage layout or dim lighting precludes clear operator view of the fly system or performer, ensure a spotter is assigned, as necessary.
- Establish a communication system and chain of command, starting with the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator. All communication should be initiated by or go through the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator. Ensure the operator, performer and spotter (if used) have a clear communication method for stopping or indicating a problem (section 27 of Industrial Establishments Regulation).
- Conduct sufficient tech rehearsal to ensure predictable and safe operation of the fly system. This should include practice of the rescue plan.
- Do full dry-tech testing of the system under expected loads and operating conditions.
- Conduct sufficient rehearsal to ensure the safety of all persons required to be in the fly area (clause 25(2) (a) of the OHSA). Enough time should be given to ensure that they are familiar with the fly system, and comfortable with the safety precautions in place.
- Before every flying rehearsal or run-through, conduct testing of all components of the system in its complete range of motion for operators and performers. The testing should include as many elements of actual performance as initially determined by the flying director/aerial stunt coordinator, including props, costumes, sound, and lighting.
- Ensure that changes to flying systems or equipment are made and tested by authorized competent personnel.
- Where changes are made to any sequence that includes flying, ensure additional rehearsal is held to establish familiarity and comfort with the new sequence (clause 25(2)(a) of the OHSA).
Pre-show and show operation
- Conduct pre-show testing of all components of the system in its complete range of motion. The passive secondary deployment should be checked during each pre-show inspection.
- All flying systems, equipment, ropes, knots and other tie-offs should be checked for wear, damage and integrity before every performance (clause 25(1)(b) of the OHSA). If any defects are found, there must be no flying of performers until the system is repaired and restored to good condition (clause 25(1)(b) of the OHSA).
- Monitor and operate machinery safely (clause 28(2)(b) of the OHSA) and the operator should be prepared for unexpected occurrences and malfunction.
- Operational changes should be made only by an authorized and competent person.
- Maintenance and inspections should be done by a competent person.
- Establish a maintenance schedule, with a method of documenting the maintenance work done.
- Conduct maintenance according to the schedule, and more frequently when any observed behaviour of the system warrants it.
- Immobilise mechanised elements for maintenance activities where any operation of the fly system would pose a hazard (section 75 of the Industrial Establishments Regulation).
- A retirement schedule for the replacement of equipment should be established by the rigger or flying director/aerial stunt coordinator. The rigger or flying director/aerial stunt coordinator should determine which equipment, if any, needs such a schedule. If the integrity of any fly equipment is in doubt, it shall be retired from service permanently or repaired and recertified by the manufacturer (clause 25(1)(b) of the OHSA).
- Check with the manufacturer’s instructions before using any cleansers, markers, paint, or stickers on components or equipment. No part of a harness can be cleaned, dyed, painted or marked with a substance that might degrade the strength and/or integrity of the harness materials (clause 25(1)(b) of the OHSA).
- Use appropriate containers to store fly equipment to avoid moisture, abrasion, dirt, ultraviolet light, extreme temperatures, and other hazards (clause 25(1)(b) of the OHSA).
- Performance Industry
Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development
- Health and Safety Ontario (health and safety association)
- Workplace Safety & Insurance Board
- Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standards referenced in occupational health and safety legislation
Call 1-877-202-0008 anytime to report critical injuries, fatalities or work refusals. For general inquiries about workplace health and safety and to report potentially unsafe work conditions, call 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. In an emergency, always call 911 immediately.