Students share theatre safety concerns

Paola Marizan

Steven McCallister changed his major because he felt unsafe in Mallette Theatre.

The former theatre major said the genie, an aerial lift truck; the scaffold, an elevated work platform used for lighting purposes; and electrical cables in Mallette are cause for concern.

He witnessed someone move a genie while students were on it. He saw tools fall from a genie and said he is worried someone might get hit and killed.

But his fear didn’t end once he left the department – he is concerned for the safety of other students, too.

McCallister hopes that with the Teaching Theatre come safer working conditions.

“I’ve never seen a harness or a hard hat,” he said. “(The new theatre) should take out a lot of what’s happening over there. I am mostly concerned about somebody falling from the scaffolding.”

Theatre breaks OSHA regulations

McCallister provided a slew of photos taken inside the theatre, which is located in the lower level of the Liberal Arts Center, after The Shield received detailed information about potential safety hazards from two sources who wished to remain anonymous.

One photo shows a blue Genie with three legs. The fourth leg rests on the floor next to the genie, unattached.

According to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard, the brakes should be set and the outriggers, when used, should be positioned on pads or a solid surface. Wheel shocks should be installed before conducting an aerial lift on an incline.

A second photo of a scaffold shows only two outriggers, which are supports for the scaffold, where there should be four.

According to OSHA regulations, any damaged or weakened scaffold – from any cause – should be immediately repaired and should not be used until the repairs have been made.

Another photo shows two students working on a scaffold without harnesses or hard hats.

According to OSHA regulations, a body belt should be worn and a lanyard should be attached to the basket when working from an aerial lift.

Some students feel safe

Junior theatre major Samuel Wentzel said he hasn’t heard of any accidents.

“We always have a spotter,” he said. “They are as safe as possible.”

The department addresses a situation every time something breaks or happens, he said.

Wentzel said he has never seen a harness or a hard hat.

Officials comment on accusations

Environmental Health and Safety Manager Bryan Morrison said he was unaware of the safety concerns.

“When I am made aware of something that needs correction, we just correct it,” Morrison said.

Morrison encourages students and faculty to come forward with any concerns so they can be addressed. He said he doesn’t blame anyone – his goal is to fix the problem. He can be reached via phone, email or in person.

“It keeps someone from getting hurt,” he said.

Morrison said the electrical cables students expressed concern about are in a dead-end room where no one should be.

He said it is true the genie should to have all four supports when workers are on it and students should be wearing harnesses if they are more than six feet above the ground.

“We should question everything and not just mindlessly follow,” he said. Morrison wanted to correct the situation right away.

He said he would talk to Angela Torres, management and marketing director of university theaters, to make a plan and correct the situation.

“I can get over there today,” he said Feb. 17. “I rely on my colleagues who are safety professionals. There are a lot of things that our department takes care of.”

Elliot Wasserman, chair of the performing arts department, was not aware of the situation either, but said he checks things periodically and takes action immediately if students notify him of their concerns.

“I don’t think that they (the faculty) would deliberately ignore a real safety concern,” he said.

He said if students broke the rules when faculty was not around, it does not indicate a lack of safety teachings.

“The proper safety is taught,” Wasserman said. “If harnesses are not available – I’m not saying that they’re not – but if they’re not, that situation has not been brought to my attention.”

He said if harnesses were not available or missing, he would take care of it. But he is extremely pleased with the results of safety on stage.

“I would not jeopardize the safety of any student,” Wasserman said.

Solution or no solution? 

When The Shield asked Morrison Feb. 24, for updates on the situation, he forwarded questions to Steven Bridges, assistant vice president for business affairs and assistant treasurer.

Bridges said risk management and the theatre department met for two hours Feb. 21.

“This will all be a process,” Bridges said. “If someone brings up something, it is always good to address it globally.”

The first step – place posters around campus with emergency contact information.

Morrison said Wednesday they are working to make things better, but he could not go into detail about it.

Bridges said no updates have been made, but they will continue to evaluate the situation.

James Vaughn contributed to this story.