AVL Safety Needed in Churches

featured-how-trendsAudio. Video. Lighting. Budgets. Safety? When churches think about audio, video and lighting (AVL) technology, safety isn’t on the radar for the vast majority of pastors. However, with the exponential increase in the use of flown speaker arrays, screens, and lighting fixtures, keeping the technical staff and congregants who sit below these devices safe needs to be a discussion point brought up by the internet ‘box sales’ houses and systems integrators alike. Virtually all churches could use a safety inspection of all of their gear’s hang points, load ratings, shackles, safety wires/harnesses, spansets and trusses, adding a valuable introduction for systems integrators to help churches avoid accidents (and lawsuits) and make needed upgrades to system components while the lift systems are in place anyway.

The Low-Hanging Fruit

Quite literally, there are so many low-hanging lights, trusses and projectors that are easy to inspect without bringing in expensive lifts or cranes that the most common DIY-installed technology components would require nothing more than a short step ladder. Starting with the work that churches often do themselves is a great way to introduce simple safety features, such as safety wires for lighting instruments hung on pipe or truss.
Working with the United States Institute for Theatre or the Entertainment Services and Technology Association (IATSE) to hire professional, certified riggers will typically cost $800 to $1,600 — a tiny fractional cost easily covered by any church. This should be a helpful sales tool to encourage churches to have their venues certified. It further provides the opportunity to train staff on proper rigging safety apparatus and techniques for future technology additions.
The simplicity of helping church pastors understand the easy addition of safety components to their existing technology is a key introduction to the credibility and professionalism of a systems integrator. And while on site with the cranes or lifts to make safety adjustments, it’s a clear sales opportunity to replace old lighting fixtures, replace lamps, repair speakers and add additional technology. The value proposition of maximizing the cost of labor for safety rigging by also adding new components to the mix is one even the bean-counters understand.

Keep People Safe

Sadly, there have been many accidents involving improper rigging, inadequate training and faulty equipment. Perhaps the worst accident happened during a Christmas production in 2008 at Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio when 23-year-old volunteer performer feel to her death from a flying harness. Countless other situations involving light fixtures falling and trusses collapsing have demonstrated the risks involved with the higher production values desired by churches.
I don’t believe pastors don’t care about safety; it’s simply not in their realm of experience so they don’t think about it. And with the vast majority of churches using volunteers or minimally trained technical staff, rigging is a potentially huge issue looming — literally — over the heads of the singers, musicians, pastors and congregants.
Safety training for church staff and volunteers is a significant opportunity, especially in the ramp up prior to Easter and Christmas, where churches tend to pull out the production stops to create impressive experiences. The costs are not only easily understood by church pastors, the opportunity to extend training to AVL usage is an easy value add while you have the teams together onsite.

Don’t Underestimate Nature

In August of 2011, a wind gust hit the Indiana State Fair’s temporary staging roof structure causing it to collapse and land on the audience, killing seven people and injuring 58 others. Churches often plan outdoor concerts and events such as Easter sunrise services using portable staging and AVL — often opting for do-it-themselves setup. Without proper training and experience, considerations for ballasts and counterbalances are often neglected out of ignorance.


Indiana State Fair stage collapse from wind gusts

Indiana State Fair stage collapsing from wind gusts. 7 died, 58 others were injured. Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone Magazine.

In certain areas of the country, extra design considerations are essential in the event of earthquakes, something anyone living in a fault zone will understand, but seemingly few will appropriate into their staging and AVL designs in DIY installations. Beyond the consequences of the initial crash comes the potential for panic as people try to exit the venue.

Safety First, Not Scare-tactic Sales

These are not conjured fears or scare tactics for sales, but valid concerns that need to be addressed by a vertical market that has rapidly increased the complexity of their productions without the corresponding emphasis on safety. It is helpful to present churches with a tiered plan for safety checks and implementation. For example, start by identifying the increased liability churches face as they’ve added AVL technology and rigging over the years and offer a simple safety inspection for all mounted and flown audio, video, and lighting equipment, as well as the supporting truss and hang points. The peace of mind and a documented inventory of what is deemed safe is helpful insurance.
However, it is entirely reasonable to also offer additional services, such as rigging training, safety checklists, additional purchase for safety augmentation and even the re-hanging of certain lighting fixtures, speakers, projectors, truss and/or screens. If you have a certified rigging specialist on staff, find out about IATSE certification options to further enhance the value proposition and additional peace of mind for church business administrators.
Finally, the labor expense of bringing in certified rigging specialists and the associated lifts or cranes makes for a good opportunity to make recommended updates and upgrades while the gear and people are on-site. For quite a few churches, this would be a worthwhile investment in updating their speaker systems and lighting infrastructure while the labor costs are already on the table.
Of all of the articles I’ve written about reaching churches with a strong value proposition, perhaps none can compare to the significance of life safety as the ultimate way to begin a dialogue with new clients and re-engaging existing clients for additional work.
What has been your experience with raising safety concerns about rigging to churches? Share your views in the comments below and be sure to click the share buttons for social media to put this in front of your church clients.