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Home » Organizing » Symphonic Workplace Safety Issues: Part 2

Symphonic Workplace Safety Issues: Part 2


Read part one of the Symphonic Workplace Safety Issues here. 

Backstage Lighting Conditions: Colorado Springs Philharmonic

by Nathan Kahn, AFM Symphonic Services Division Negotiator:

The orchestra’s CBA states in part:

“… The Employer shall ensure that adequate lighting is maintained at all services, backstage and on stage. Maintaining adequate lighting shall mean having either full stage lighting at all times, or individual stand lights for all musicians, during all rehearsals and performances, and providing backstage lighting sufficient to see to walk and to get out or put instruments away safely as necessary …”

In 2008 Colorado Springs Philharmonic (CSPO) musicians began noticing that, when leaving the stage during certain pops and other concerts, they would leave a very bright stage into sudden, total darkness. This was due to the employer’s desire to have a completely dark background to the stage during these concerts. As is the case with many pops concerts nationally, the backstage area of the Pikes Peak Center was filled with soundboards, lighting boards, large equipment travel cases, and the expected heavy electric wiring that accompanies such equipment.  

A complaint was made to management, and management responded with a single lamp light pole. The light was covered with blue gel and pointed at the floor. This light was far from “adequate lighting” as required by the contract. Moreover, the unpacking area for instruments was lit for some areas of the backstage, but almost totally dark in other areas. When musicians unpacking in the dark areas attempted to turn on an overhead light, Philharmonic or hall officials promptly turned it off, and later posted a sign prohibiting musicians from turning on the light.

Conditions continued as described for several years, and the single light pole (which became known as the “blue light special”) was either pointed at the wall rendering it totally useless or disappeared from the backstage entirely. In February 2011, a grievance was filed over the issue of inadequate light in unpacking areas. Grievance meetings were held, and thereafter some adjustments to backstage lighting were made, which somewhat mitigated the situation.  

In 2012,some musicians exited the stage from a pops concert into an almost totally dark backstage environment. In response, Local 154 (Colorado Springs, CO) filed a grievance over inadequate light in the backstage area and grievance discussions commenced. At one point, the president/CEO declared that he was finished negotiating. He held that there were no violations and that it was the employer’s right to issue safety guidelines as long as they didn’t conflict with the master agreement. He made known his intent to impose his lighting “policy,” which would have severely restricted musician access to the backstage area, required some musicians to climb up steep concrete stairs while carrying their instruments, and limited the unpacking of large instruments to cramped spaces. 

The local held that safety rules were a mandatory subject of bargaining and that it was unwilling to give up its right to negotiate them. It requested the assistance of a federal mediator to bring the president/CEO back to grievance meetings to achieve a negotiated settlement.At the mediator’s request, the local drafted a policy, which the management then refused to consider. Ultimately, a side letter was created, with the mediator’s guidance, which addressed the issues and resolved the grievance. 

Thereafter the lighting for unpacking backstage was improved, but backstage walkways to and from the stage during pops and other concerts utilizing dark stage backdrops remained poorly lit. Walkways contained only lightly scattered small clip lights with blue gels covering the lights.  

In November 2013 one musician was injured when she slipped off the edge of the pit into a three-foot drop-off, which was neither lit nor marked in any manner to indicate a dangerous situation. In December 2013, another musician was injured as he attempted to walk from the stage into a totally black backstage, and walked right into a heavy, wooden black partition that was not visible due to the total absence of light.  

After these incidents occurred in these very dark environments,Local 154 filed yet another grievance,and also filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In this process, the local learned from OSHA that there is no minimum standard for lighting of backstage areas of performance facilities, and the absence of any such standard meant that OSHA was therefore compelled to utilize their default “bare bones” lighting standard of .20 (20% of one) foot-candle of light. By comparison, OSHA requires shipyard workers building ships to have a minimum of three to five foot-candles of light provided when working in the dark hulls of ships. The president/CEO claimed to the local, and to OSHA, that the orchestra was only required to provide .20 foot-candle of light for musicians exiting the stage.  

On March 7 of this year, an OSHA field inspector made a surprise visit to the Pikes Peak Center, during which the problematic lighting conditions were recreated. Because of the absence of an OSHA minimum backstage lighting standard, no citation was issued, however the OSHA field inspector noted that, in an environment where musicians leave a brightly lit stage into a dark backstage area that is filled with heavy electric cables, other electronic equipment, cases, etc., the lighting conditions exhibited were a serious accident waiting to happen.

Walkway lighting backstage at the Pikes Peak Center has now improved with the addition of brighter “runway” type string lights outlining the walkways.

It goes without saying that musicians carrying expensive musical instruments should never have themselves or their instruments subject to unsafe lighting conditions in order to accommodate the desires of effect lighting (or lack of). But it remains that OSHA still has no standard for backstage lighting in concert halls. Only through concerted efforts by our local unions to get performance hall managers to submit their suggestions for minimum backstage lighting levels to OSHA will we be able to see some OSHA standard set in the future for backstage concert hall lighting.  

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