Rules and Regulations

by Baker Lee
in FOH at Large
Illustration by Andy Au
Illustration by Andy Au

Rules and regulations are stultifying and, though we are all aware that certain guidelines are required to maintain a safe and healthy work environment, nobody appreciates being bound by directives that add to our cost of doing business. Considering that we are professionals with many years of experience, it is almost insulting to be told by outside sources how to do our jobs. In many instances, we ignore various rules altogether, as they just don’t seem to apply to what it is we do.

The Sky is Falling!

For example, rule 1926.100(a) as stated by United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) handbook: “Employees working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, shall be protected by protective helmets.”

I have often seen this regulation ignored by most audio companies, audio personnel and even riggers while on site during stage, lighting and audio builds. Granted, if you are a front of house engineer standing 100 feet from the stage, there is probably little need for the protective helmet. Then again, if you are a monitor engineer, audio rigger, guitar tech or any of the many stagehands required for the installation of the monitors and backline, it would be safe to say that the producers and crew would be in violation of the OSHA rule if headgear is not being worn by all of the workers. Being struck by a crescent wrench or set of dikes dropped from overhead can ruin your entire day.

Sound Advice

Another OSHA rule that most of us are guilty of breaking is: “OSHA allows eight hours of exposure to 90 dBA but only two hours of exposure to 100 dBA sound levels. NIOSH would recommend limiting the eight-hour exposure to less than 85 dBA. At 100 dBA, NIOSH recommends less than 15 minutes of exposure per day.” The “A” in the “dBA” stands for decibels measured in the “A” weighted system. It’s arguable as to the amount of noise we endure during any given workday, but if a concert or festival should last for at the minimum of two hours, I would assume that, without protective hearing equipment, we as an industry are in direct violation of the OSHA rule.

Of course, trying to adhere to this regulation could easily ruin the live concert industry and put many people out of work as the stated decibel restriction would be overly prohibitive for most live events. Years ago, as front of house engineer for Summer Stage in New York City, one of my obligations was to meter the sound and make sure that the reading did not exceed 95 dB at front of house position, which was about 100 feet from the stage. The problem I encountered was not in limiting the audio level, but in deflecting the angry concert attendees and visiting audio techs while doing my job as directed.

Rules, Regulations and You

The cited OSHA regulations are not necessarily bad rules, but may not entirely apply to our type of business and — if implemented — could easily lead to a loss of business and revenue for promoters and company owners. That said, most rules and regulations are a boon to employees, as employers are playing with a stacked deck, which enables them to call the shots. Employees who are part of a worker’s union stand to benefit from their membership because union rules and regulations are put in place to protect them from those employers who might be unethical. This is not to say that unions are without their own problems, or that all employers are unethical, but the rules and regulations that guide our industry (as well as many others) are set in place to protect the most vulnerable — this being the employees and the concert attendees.

Unqualified workers are not only a detriment to themselves, but also to the people with whom they work. Even a simple task — such as operating a lift gate — comes with the stipulation that the operator lets everyone know when the gate is moving in or out. This is a simple yet important rule to abide by, especially if there are heavy or awkward loads that could possibly fall and injure the people on the ground.


Tying in and out of electrical power with camlock connectors has its own protocol — with ground and neutral being the first legs to be connected going in, and the last to be detached on the way out. The rules and regulations that come affixed to accessing electrical power are fully warranted due to the inherent danger involved if mistakes are made during the process.

Trico power clamps are made for film and video, but I have also seen them used by audio companies for accessing power from a wall panel. Trico connectors are like big alligator clips, and using them is similar to using jumper cables on a car battery and — even though they are rated for high amperage — they could pose a danger by not providing the most secure connection. While the Trico website says that their product is “to be used by certified electricians only” and to “turn off power before applying or removal,” I have seen various audio companies disregard the rules and regulations and use Trico electrical clamps to tie into power as a matter of expediency and also as a way of saving money.

Good Ideas — and Bad

I have always been a big proponent of planning for the worst-case scenario rather than the best and — other than extremely poor decision-making — I would say that many of the disasters that have occurred in our business have been due to some promoter or company skirting the rules and regulations just to save a bit of money. One incident in particular was the collapse of the Indiana State Fair stage in 2011, where seven people died and about 60 others were injured. The official reason for the collapse is given as: “The failure…was due to the inadequate capacity of the lateral load resisting system, which was comprised of guy lines connected to concrete ‘Jersey barrier’ ballast.”

Basically, what this means is that proper protocol was not followed and the rules and regulations that serve as a safety guideline were bypassed in favor of building a structure with inadequate support. While there were multiple violations cited on behalf of the staging company, there were also many breaches of protocol found on behalf of the State of Indiana as well as The Indiana State Fair Commission. Indeed, a perfect storm of omission from all parties was involved.

The conclusion I draw from this information is that either everyone involved was unqualified for their position or that somewhere along the chain of command there was more money to be made by ignoring the proper protocol. I am not an advocate of over-regulating that which we do, but rules and regulations are put in place to protect everyone from the incompetent, the shysters and the greedy. It’s what I see as the cost of doing business at the expense of keeping everyone honest.