Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Learning lessons from Radiohead’s stage collapse

The investigation into the weekend tragedy at a Radiohead show in Toronto, which caused the death of the band’s drum tech Scott Johnson and injuries to a number of other stage crew, is underway. Per a report in the Toronto …

Wed, Jun 20, 2012, 09:07

   

The investigation into the weekend tragedy at a Radiohead show in Toronto, which caused the death of the band’s drum tech Scott Johnson and injuries to a number of other stage crew, is underway. Per a report in the Toronto Star, the investigation by the Ontario Ministry of Labour will question four companies who were involved with the organisation and staffing of the show. These include promoters Live Nation, two Toronto-based suppliers and Radiohead’s own Ticket Tape Touring.

As the report notes, the investigators are yet to establish just how many different companies were involved in the site build, which is not surprising seeing as concerts of this ilk often involve many different companies to take care of staging, lighting, sound and staffing. However, the blueprints for the stage have already been provided and examined.

Given what happened – not to mention the potential scale of the disaster which might have occured had the stage collapse occured after the gates had opened and fans were in the field – it must be hoped that the investigation will be thorough and forensic. Furthermore, if it turns out that short cuts were taken or safety regulations were not fully adhered to during the build, let’s hope that any final report takes this into account and that appropriate action is taken.

Sadly, we’ve been here before. Last summer saw a number of major incidents at festivals in Europe and the United States involving temporary stages and infrastucture resulted in deaths and injuries.

Putting on outdoor shows and building temporary stages and infrastructres always involve risks of some sort and these risks need to be managed by the show promoter. While the vast majority of large-scale events will see the organisers liasing with the local authorities and providing detailed health and safety reports and plans, there is often anecdotal evidence that lines are crossed and that costs are shaved when it comes to fitting out the stages and site infrastructure. It’s only when tragedies occur that these practices comes to the surface.

Safety consultant Janet Sellery noted some of the inconsistencies which can occur in the aftermath of Saturday’s incident in Toronto. “In some cases, it is not clear who’s going to say ‘that’s not OK’ or ‘that doesn’t meet the standard’,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of performances and events that may go on with a lot of fingers crossed. It’s not something that there’s a lot of political or bureaucratic energy behind. Doing live performance and events has always been about pushing boundaries and I think that’s a good thing, but you have to make sure…that the health and safety practices keep up with that.”

Sellery points to a lack of bureaucratic oversight, but it is often nigh on impossible for officials from a local authority, who may know very little about how a festival site is built and where corners can be cut during the process, to ensure everything on a safety plan is fully adhered to. While some things are immediately obvious, other changes and cuts may only be apparent to those who’ve previously worked on site builds. Identifying ways to ensure and enforce proper safety checks before crowds are admitted to a field, tent or sports stadium will hopefull be on those investigators’ checklist.