Safety: First, Last and Always A look at safety nets from InCord

by Stage Directions
in Safety
Pit Net with hatch for the organ at Atlanta's Fox Theatre
Pit Net with hatch for the organ at Atlanta's Fox Theatre
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Safety should be top of mind for everyone in theater. No matter your role—designer, technician, artisan, technical director, production manager, orchestra conductor, etc.—safety is something that touches us all. Maintaining the safety of crew, cast, musicians, and audience members is the most basic and primary requirement of any theater. However, one area that doesn’t always get the urgent attention required is the large hole at the front of many stages—the orchestra pit. 

Some have platforms that cover the pit, some have lifts that can be raised and lowered. No matter what the opening, there is always a danger of people falling off the edge of the stage and getting hurt. There’s also the potential for props or scenery that could fall on an orchestra member. An open orchestra pit is considered a fall hazard under OSHA 1910.23 for walking working surfaces, with a fall height greater than four feet. Open pits are also recognized under OSHA’s General Duty Clause (Sec 5) as a known hazard, even when the fall height is under four feet.

Theater safety is also dealt with under ANSI Standards as the ANSI E1.46-2018 Standard for The Prevention of Falls from Theatrical Stages and Raised Performance Platforms which outlines the need for any theater to have a comprehensive safety plan. ANSI E1.42-2018, Entertainment Technology – Design, Installation, and Use of Orchestra Pit Lifts, is a revision of ANSI E1.42-2016. The revisions are improvements to incorporate what has been learned since the 2016 edition was published.

There is a very good, in fact ideal, solution to protecting performers and technicians from falling into the pit—an orchestra pit safety net. As all pits are unique, a custom net can be manufactured to cover your pit. InCord, Ltd. specializes in safety nets. They are the choice of installations and touring productions to safely protect the actors, technicians, musicians, and the public when on stage. InCord offers affordable safety nets for orchestra pits, proscenium edges, trap doors, and catwalks. They work with all levels of academic, regional, and Broadway theaters, performance venues and national touring producers. Their pit nets are required for a number of Broadway tours including Matilda, Aladdin, and The Lion King

Safety Experience
The Connecticut-based InCord, Ltd. has been making safety nets for over 24 years; making them for a variety of industries—industrial, construction, amusement, sports, environmental. They’ve been constructing theater-specific safety nets for the past 13 years. They offer products to protect cast and crew from set construction to rehearsals, right through the final performance to striking the set. InCord offers OSHA compliant products that effectively reduce these hazards and minimize the risk of injury. Joe Menhart, Sales Manager, Theatre Division of InCord states, “Our company is all about safety and all about netting applications for safety.”

Menhart has an effective and to the point explanation of why choose an orchestra pit net. “An orchestra pit net is the best solution for saving lives and preventing people from breaking an arm or a leg. We talk with so many people that are surprised to learn that there is an affordable solution to catching people before they hit the orchestra pit floor. It’s a beautiful product; you can hardly see it. We even engineered a specialized opening for the conductor to stick their head or arms out; it fits in any orchestra pit.” 

Safety Net FAQs
Menhart and InCord have compiled frequently asked questions about safety netting and are more than happy to share  their knowledge. “People should know that we’ve been doing this for over 10 years, so we haven’t met a pit that we couldn’t fit,” comments Menhart. “And it fits like a glove. Every anchor must be professionally installed and inspected to make sure that the net is going to safely catch a person. That’s what we do and that’s what our partners do.” 
Loading in the pit net at Connecticut

With InCord, every net is custom. There are no two orchestra pits alike. InCord can do the installation or one of their partners can handle it. InCord has several partners across the U.S. and install nets internationally. They are fortunate to have over 30 nationwide partners promoting, selling, and installing InCord orchestra pit nets including Wenger/J.R. Clancy, Staging Concepts, and StageRight. A list of their partners can be found on their website. In many cases a theatre is already working with one of their partners, so a friendly conversation leads to a quick solution. “What people need to know is once we've got all your information, I know who I can refer you to that's local; that could save you a lot of money because they're close by and can do the site survey and measuring for you and do the installation for you. This relieves you of the responsibility to take on that risk and liability yourself,” says Menhart.

Range of Solutions
In addition to their popular Orchestra Pit Net (OPN), InCord also fabricates other safety nets for theater applications. For load-ins and loadouts, InCord’s Stage Guard net goes from one side of the proscenium to the other and will prevent anyone from getting to the orchestra pit in the first place. InCord also makes nets to cover trap doors in a stage as well as catwalk nets. A lot of things—and people—fall from catwalks as well. A custom fit netting for a catwalk to keep people safe up there in the dark when they're moving around, adjusting lights during a show, or for setup, or breakdown. Lastly, since the standard OPN is virtually see-through and does not block light, InCord has released a new product, currently referred to as ‘Light Block’, where they add a scrim over their OPN product to help cut down on the bounce light from sheet music. The standard OPN is virtually see-through and does not block any light or sound—or the view—of musicians in the pit.

Success Stories: Customers Always Know Best
“During a kids’ theatre camp just this summer, they had a power blackout in the Kahilu Theatre, and before the emergency lights came on, a kid backed up and fell off the stage onto the safety net. This confirmed that this was exactly what the theatre needed, that it’s working wonderfully. It’s a wonderful product, and everyone at the theatre is so, so happy that they got it. The InCord product helped save that child. There is no reason whatsoever to not have a pit net. It’s relatively inexpensive; it’s not really complicated to install. When I was working as a consultant at Westlake Reed Leskosky, all our projects would have an orchestra pit net as part of the building. As I said, I can see no reason for a theatre with an existing orchestra pit to not have one.” Ziegler, who has worked with InCord multiple times over the years adds, “The turnaround on making a net is very quick. You can handle the installation locally or InCord will do it. They are a great company to work with and I just think they have a wonderful product.” - Darrell Ziegler, an emeritus theater consultant member of the American Society of Theatre Consultants and now volunteer member of the facilities team at the Kahilu Theatre.

“Here at the Hobby Center, we’ve had an InCord OPN since August 2015. The purchase was driven by a stagehand, working in our smaller theater, who knew the pit was down, but wasn’t paying attention to where he was onstage and fell 12-feet to the pit floor, landing on a music stand and a chair; he was out for six months. It was probably one of the easiest purchasing decisions I’ve ever made, because there was a definite need. Since getting the net, we’ve had two incidents where the net saved people. One was a student accepting an award and another was a lighting designer. If we hadn’t had that net, both incidents would have had entirely different outcomes. We have a policy here that the net is in place for anyone who uses the pit.” - Michael R. Metzdorf, Director of Production, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts

“The particular nets that we travel with for The Lion King are designed specifically to catch people; the ones that we get from InCord are thicker and rated in a way that they can catch a performer in the unlikely chance that they were to fall off stage. Our advance team surveys each theatre and looks at the dimensions of the pit. Based on the dimensions, I’ll send Joe at InCord those dimensions and the timeframe. We’ve had them turn a net around in as little as a week, which is impressive. As far as the value of having a safety net, quite literally and metaphorically, I know it brings a lot of comfort to people. People forget that it’s there until they see it in use. It’s not an eyesore or anything like that. I’ve been on other tours that didn’t require things like a safety net; on some of those shows you can’t help but ask the question, ‘what if one of these kids gets overzealous and they trip? They just fall into the pit?’ But it seems like more people are getting into the idea of safety regarding the pit, which is great. People see the fun side of what we do but, it's very dangerous, make believe. A lot of skilled people come together to make sure that everything is done safely. The InCord team is definitely a big part of that. - Corey Kloos, Head of Props for The Rafiki National Tour of The Lion King

“Here at The Bushnell Center, we’ve had safety nets from InCord for over 10 years now. In fact, we have all of their products—nets for our pits, catwalk nets, and the Stage Guard nets for our prosceniums to protect our stagehands. We are very safety conscious here. I will say the Stage Guard safety net across the front’s a biggie, which we use daily. We keep it in a barrel offstage and it goes up in about a minute. A lot of times we’re doing production work when we have to drop our pits and there’s a whole crew in here, not just local crew, a road crew as well who don’t know the building. Having that up is a great feature to have. We had people fall in the pit, unfortunately, prior to having these nets up. We have not had anyone—knock on wood—fall since the nets have gone in; they’ve been a great help and a great deterrent. I would recommend safety nets for any theatre. People just don’t watch all the time what’s going on and especially when you have a lot of people working in a tight area. It’s a good expense to make and you keep your people safe.” - Mike Sivo, Technical Director, The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts

“Here at the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) we have 10 individual pieces of netting from InCord. They were bought for six different scenic configurations. We’ve been lucky—knock wood—we’ve never had someone fall. InCord has been fantastic and from what I know, they are one of the few companies that do this for our purposes. They were super helpful to work with, very pleasant, and understand the challenges and complexities of what we do in the theatre. You should never, ever, ever skimp on safety. It’s just not worth it. Theatre is one of the few industries where we suspend thousands of pounds of equipment over people’s heads in a temporary fashion, and they don’t have to wear hard hats. So, I take safety very, very seriously. We want to make sure everyone—the actors on stage, the crew—everyone feels safe so that they can do their job.” - Adriane Heflin, Technical Director, the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC)

“Here at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta, we’re a 1929 venue. We were originally built as a performance hall and movie house; we still show movies in the summer. We have three hatches in our InCord orchestra pit net so we can have the Möller pipe organ come up on a lift stage right that can play for movies, and The Atlanta Ballet’s productions. We also have an act lift for pianos or performers that is separate—and was used for a new version of The Nutcracker last year, and a conductor lift. InCord handled the site survey and installation, all of it. Working with InCord was great because I don’t know what happened to measuring tools when they built this building in the 1920s, but everything’s slightly off here. It was great just having somebody on site to make sure on every measurement of our pit was correct because we’re not at all symmetrical around here.” - Amy M. Smith, Director of Production, The Fox Theatre, Atlanta