Let’s Be Safer, At Least in the Entertainment Industry

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I was sitting on the couch yesterday with Laura, and I was writing some posts.  I remember turning to her and saying “babe, I hate writing about people dying.”

I was looking back at the posts I’ve written about our brothers and sisters dying on the job or at a show, and those posts have more traffic than anything I’ve ever posted on JimOnLight.com – the world’s thirst for death and blood never ceases to amaze me.

People outside the Entertainment industry have amazing reactions to the kinds of accidents we have in this business — a man falling 100 feet?  A roof structure falling onto a handful of people at a concert?  An LED video panel crashing to the deck onto people working below it?  These are serious accidents that attract the attention of people worldwide – and considering the number of productions and events that occurs every day compared to the number of accidents that end in bodily harm or death within our productions, we’re doing quite well.  Maybe not airline odds, but we’re doing OK as far as the stats are concerned.  But here’s the thing — what exactly is ok when it comes to the injury and death of our production and design professional brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, girlfriends and boyfriends, sons and daughters?

This lighting designer submits that zero is the number that is acceptable.

But:  as the government is responsible for making the rules and laws that we depend on “to keep us safe” on the job, it’s our responsibility to do what is necessary to remain safe at the gig, on the job site, and while the show is going on.  It is our responsibility to make sure that we can keep working safely just as well as it is the people who make the rules.  It is our responsibility as an active and involved industry to make sure that our people are safe on the job, and that they go home at the end of every day and night.

Collectively, we’re really bad at being 100% safe in our business, and you know what I mean.  I have been just as guilty in my life as the next man or woman in this business, where opening night is just as important a deadline to satisfy as a wedding day or Christmas.  When I say you know what I mean, I’m talking about the standing on the top step of a ladder, climbing truss to “just focus that one spot” without a harness, maybe climbing an AP boom to focus without being hooked up to fall arrest.  Also in this category falls the common Entertainment industry trends of removing the legs from man lifts, moving people around in man lifts with them fully extended, and on and on and on and on.  When I was young and still climbed trusses, I’m sure I’m guilty at one point.  It took me learning what my life was really worth to make me start remembering that safety is way more important than some stupid show, some deadline.  It’s something that I am reminded of every time I have to write about another Nathan Byrd, another Dean Williams.

Young production professionals and students of Entertainment Production and Design programs across the world, listen up:
While it’s important to work hard and get the show or event done and ready on time, it is not important to jeopardize your safety to get something on a work list done at the expense of risking your safety.  Quite frankly, that last sentence should read “YOUR SAFETY IS NEVER EVER TO BE JEOPARDIZED FOR A SHOW.”  Just because that top hat is kind-of in there and you can only reach it by stepping off of the lift for just a second doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea.  You must think of what can happen if you fall – who takes care of you?  What happens if you’re paralyzed if you’re “lucky” enough not to die?  How will you work and take care of yourself and family?  Just because you’ve done it before and you’ve succeeded in being fast at your job because you cut corners instead of coming down to re-position the lift or ladder does not make you “good at your job.”  It makes you a dumbass.  That’s right — it makes you a dumb ass.

How do you tell a kid learning how to do this kind of work that it’s so very urgent to get it done by the deadline and at the same time tell them that you can’t cut corners for their own safety to get it done?  I used to say this to students, and it always seemed to be a real eye-opener:
What do you think is going to happen in most cases if you fall in some theatre or working for, let’s say, a production company doing a concert or event?  If you hurt yourself, the money to take care of you has to come from somewhere, right?  Taking care of someone who can’t urinate on their own anymore, let alone eat or walk, is really expensive – in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars a month.  What’s going to happen first and foremost in most cases in most situations, the company that controls the place you fell (if you’re lucky enough to have lived) is going to make sure it’s your fault, somehow.  We’re talking about a lot of money here, kids, they’re not going to just pay out without a vicious, nasty fight.  However, the chances are that you’ve already signed a waiver of holding the company responsible for damages you sustain on the site.  So once you fall and hurt yourself forever, you’re screwed.  This also means your parents are screwed; your wife or husband, if they stick around, is screwed.  Your kids, if you have them?  Screwed.  Your career?  Well, it’s screwed because you obviously didn’t care about it anyway to be careful enough to continue doing it.

In chatting with a friend about this exact subject, the observation was brought up that the people hurt or killed in the accidents we’ve been having lately have been seasoned professionals, people who knew their job and did it frequently.  That’s all fine and good, but one thing is certain – if the seasoned professionals who have died were doing exactly the right thing, the chances are better that they would have survived.  Questions pop up in the most recent case of Dean Williams, who fell from the primary steel at the AT&T Center in San Antonio — why did Dean fall?  According to the news stories, [Dean Williams] had been wearing a harness connected to a safety line, Berry said, but he disconnected it to step around a beam, where he intended to reconnect to another safety line on the other side.”  Was Dean not wearing a double lanyard?  Why was he completely disconnected from the safety at any time up there working?  Do you see what happens now when even the most seasoned of professionals slips up, even for one second?  I bring up this accident in hopes that some young tech out there owning the road will see that you’re not going to win against time and risk.  I hope that maybe this also hits some older, more seasoned guys who are cutting corners with their future.

If you were hurt on the job because something happened and you were hurt without breaking a rule, that’s something completely different.  I am not talking about that here.  This post is for the know-it-all kids out there with the eagerness of a puppy and a fear level lower than a Navy Seal who can scale vertical structures with the speed of Spidey and can climb out on a beam with no tremble whatsoever.  Let Dean Williams be your example of what can happen when you let down your guard for one hundredth of a second.  By all accounts, Dean was a pro.  He let his guard slip for a half a heartbeat, we all do it.  Let’s all quit letting down our guard together, as an industry.

We’re awesome, we can do anything we want to do, as long as we do it together.  Please share this with your friends and family on all sides of the industry, let’s get this in everyone’s ears and eyes.

The National Lighting Bureau Wants the Phrase “Artificial Lighting” to GO AWAY

Parental Advisory: Explicit Semantics!

I got an email yesterday from John Bachner at the National Lighting Bureau with a press release about something the NLB is fighting – the use of the phrase “Artificial Lighting.”  The NLB is not happy with the way that ‘artificial’ and ‘lighting’ get used together.  From the press release:

“This is not the first time we’ve attempted to eliminate ‘artificial lighting,’” said Bureau Executive Director John Bachner. “But no matter what we do, we see it every day.” He’s not talking about the illumination systems that make contemporary living possible – think how little would get done well or at all without lighting – but rather the term “artificial lighting.”

“‘Artificial lighting’ is a misnomer; it makes no sense,” Bachner said. “Artificial things aren’t real. Artificial leather is not leather. It may look like leather, it may feel like leather, it might even smell like leather, but it’s not leather. And the same could be said about artificial glass, artificial wood, and even artificial foods, like artificial crab and artificial cheese. They may be real something, but they’re fake whatever it is they’re trying to appear or taste or smell to be. That’s not the case with lighting.”

Bachner should know whereof he speaks. A National Lighting Bureau staff executive since 1976, he is a Harvard English major who has been published extensively on a variety of subjects, including proper use of the English language.

“The light we get from electric illumination systems is real light,” Bachner said. “There’s nothing artificial about it.” He suggested that the term “artificial” was applied to distinguish electric and other types of man-made lighting from “natural lighting.” “‘Natural lighting’ is also referred to as ‘daylighting,’” Bachner said, “but not all natural lighting is ‘daylighting,’ or – more appropriately – sunlight. The light we get from the moon is natural, as is the light we get from the stars and even swamp gas and lightning. Man-made lighting is predominantly electric, of course, but gas lighting is still used in places, as are torches made from tree limbs and kerosene-soaked rags, at least in the movies.”

Like many things in our lives, semantics means everything when it comes to the opinion of the masses.  What do you all think of this?

Read the entire NLB press release here:

National Lighting Bureau Calls for the End of “Artificial Lighting”

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

POLL – How Do YOU Feel about the Incandescent Lamp Ban?

I’m really curious as to the general feeling of the incandescent lamp ban among the JimOnLight.com Community.  Simple polling among the 18-25 year olds where I am in the country seems to prove that most people either A) don’t have any idea what it is at all or B) they don’t really care either way, which is even more disappointing than them not knowing at all.

How do YOU feel about the systematic forced obsolescence of the incandescent lamp in our world?

(Hey, if you’re an RSS reader, could you come over and take the poll?  I’d greatly appreciate it!)

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

A Big Post About Compact Fluorescents


I’ve been collecting information about CFLs for a few months now, and I’ve kept from writing this post for some reason until now.  There is so much back and forth out there about compact fluorescents versus incandescents, compact fluorescents versus using halogens at a lower intensity via a dimmer, and the economy versus compact fluorescents.

There is a fact of life that impacts the sale of CFLs right now – Americans, as well as people all over the world, are freaking broke.  A dollar difference in a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk is a big deal when everything else is costing more.  We’re in a crapstorm, and when you’re dealing with a 3-4 times price increase between incandescent lamps and CFLs, what do you think people are going to buy?  Most people are not versed in looking towards the long-term benefits of anything; a good example is the fact that McDonalds is experiencing record growth and profits in this economic downturn.  Hmm.

There are some major factors that play into compact fluroescent market share – cost vs. cost savings, output quality, manufacturing quality, application, and yes, aesthetic preference.

Maybe it’s easiest to start out with the most subjective issue – aesthetic choice, and how most people feel about the light emitted by CFLs.  It’s not hard to find pretty harsh criticism on compact fluorescent lamps, all you have to do is look nearly any review of the matter.  A lot of people do not like the quality of light that comes from compact fluorescent sources.  Sometimes this is an understatement – some people downright hate CFL light.  A New York Times article on the subject of CFLs versus incandescents had some people quoted on their feelings towards CFLs:

My experience with the new bulbs has been dismal. The quality of the light is bad until they warm up. They cost 3 to 5 times as much as an incandescent, and if you have old-fashioned energy-saving habits like turning off the lights when you leave the room, they don’t last any longer than the tungsten bulbs (sometimes less). And they’re more difficult to dispose of properly because of the toxic content. Maybe L.E.D. lights will be better if the price can become reasonable.


There’s a difference between a low-flow toilet (which, if it performs properly, shouldn’t be an obvious change) and light bulbs that make your entire family look like cadavers.

And my personal favorite, leaving my opinion out of it altogether:

The amount of whining and the unwillingness to make small sacrifices of aesthetic preference in order to support an effort to save the habitability of our planet is disgusting. No wonder this country is such a mess.

At least we know how people really feel – and it’s not hard to see what people mean about looking like corpses.  The fluorescent lighting does have a tendency to make people look pretty crappy.  I’m a lighting designer, so light quality is something that gets a lot of attention in our home.  However, we do use a lot of CFLs in our home, too – the cost savings do add up.  We use a compact fluorescent anywhere that is what we consider a “medium-use space” – the laundry room, the back porch, the front porch, the garage, and in lamps that get turned on infrequently – like the one in the room with our television and video games.  However, I use incandescents in the kitchen and in the dining room.  The kitchen gets a lot of use, but the dining room does not.  I just like to make the food I prepare look good.  Could I do this with a CFL, or a few CFLs?  Sure.  But I have some incandescents I like for their color temperature, light output, and quality, and they are four of very few incandescents still in the house.

Now to be fair, there are “cool white” and “warm white” CFLs.  As a a matter of fact, most CFLs have both the lumens and the color temperature stamped on the package somewhere, in most cases.  There are certainly some cheapos that are in packaging with as little info as possible, and these are usually pretty crappy quality CFLs.  It’s also a fact that a large portion of the population could give a damn about what any of those numbers on the box mean – as long as it screws in, turns on, and doesn’t burn out this month, they’re happy.  Buying the right color temperature for the right application and feel is a principle that is not lost on those of us who know light and its idiosyncrasies.  However, this is lost on most people.  Buying cold CFLs and putting them in the living room might just make your whole family look like dead people.  It’s not a terribly difficult to understand concept – incandescents (generally) are warm, towards the amber end of the color spectrum – like a face flushed from the first Scotch of the evening.  Compact fluorescents generally sit on the blue end of the spectrum, high color temperature, and seem to take the blood out of a person’s face.

The interesting aspect of the aesthetic argument is that tests have been done that suggest that people on average cannot tell the difference with modern CFLs and incandescents unless they see the actual lamp.

Looking at cost, CFLs range between about $1.75 and $5 each – and incandescent sources (except maybe the Reveal lamp) being around 25 cents at the cheapest and a dollar at the most.  Operating costs are just as dramatic of a difference, with an average of 70% savings over incandescents.  It’s hard for people to see this long term, but look at some numbers:



There are efforts to ban the incandescent lamp all over the world.  I realize this is just to force the population to exhibit a little energy savings, but I personally hate the thought of not having incandescent sources at my disposal as a lighting designer.  I am all for energy savings and being good to Mother Earth.  However, there are certain applications where we just don’t have a comparable quality source.  This is a fact.  Companies are working on it, so we’ll see how that goes.

Manufacturing quality of CFLs is like anything else manufactured – there are some superior brands and types and some very, very bad brands and types.  Some have a lot of mercury, some have little mercury.  There are also a lot – a lot – of Energy Star rated CFLs that actually do not meet the standards.  A lot of CFLs failed 2008 standards – there are more than 3,000 CFLs that meet the 2003 Energy Star standards, but 1,100 of these lamps fail the 2008 standard.  It might also be noteworthy that the Department of Energy has given a grace period until July 1, 2009 for those companies whose products failed the 2008 standards to sell about 100 million lamps that haven’t sold because of the economy.  It might also be due to the poor quality of some of them, too.  But that’s just a guess.  A company called the Environmental Working Group has published this ridiculously long list of FAIL lamps.  The report from EWG lists CFLs that are stamped with the Energy Star logo, but failed 2008 standards.  How do you like that?  167 brands, give or take, failed.

I’d check out that list.  You’ll be surprised who is on it.

Now on the other side, there are CFLs who have a low mercury content and a high longevity.  Treehugger posted a “cream of the crop” list of CFLs:

  • Earthmate’s Mini-size bulbs-13, 15, 20 and 25 Watt
  • Litetronic’s Neolite-10, 15, 20, 23 Watt
  • Sylvania Micro-Mini-13, 20 and 23 Watt
  • Sylvania DURA-ONE-reflector bulbs
  • Feit EcoBulb
  • MaxLite
  • Philips with Alto lamp technology

Energy Star has a standard equivalent wattage chart:


One of the big contentions of CFL haters is the mercury issue.  Mercury is a poison.  Mercury poisoning doesn’t sound like anything I want to take part in at all, nor do I want anyone else to have it.  I’ve read stories about a woman breaking a CFL in her home and acquiring a $2000 clean up bill.  Why that happened, I do not know – but clean up experts say that hazard removal services aren’t required for breaking a lamp in your house.  I wouldn’t be freebasing the broken lamp or sucking on the broken tube, but you probably don’t need five guys in full hazmat gear trapsing through your house, either.

There are some guidelines for cleaning up a broken CFL.  You should take a few precautions, you know, to be safe.  Most of these are common sense:

  1. get children and your newborn baby out of the immediate area of the broken lamp.
  2. air out the room for 5-10 minutes, if possible.
  3. put on some gloves and a mask to clean up the broken lamp.
  4. put the pieces in a glass jar of plastic container, and seal it all up.
  5. wipe up the floor and clean your hands and such.
  6. recycle, don’t throw away, the busted CFL.

Seems pretty painless, maybe inonvenient.  It is a pain to dispose of CFLs, but don’t toss them in the garbage.  Take a few moments, find the recycling program for CFLs near you, and take them there.  If you don’t have time to take them there, seal them up in the garage or other out-of-the-way place and wait until you can.

Nothing is without its negative aspects.  Take tiramisu for example.  Delicious, but it makes my ass big.

Thanks to the EWG, Treehugger, EcoGeek, and NYT!

Amendment 175 – Colburn’s Proposed Omissions to the Stimulus Package

I keep up with the political atmosphere and news lately, specifically so I can find out about proposals and amendments related to my beloved lighting industries and the Entertainment industries.  I just got an email from the president of United Scenic Artists with some information about the proposed amendment from Senator Colburn, to be added to the Economic Stimulus Package.  Please read this:

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has introduced an amendment to prohibit any funds in the economic stimulus bill from going to museums, casinos, aquariums, theaters, art centers. As such, it thus would bar from Federal Economic Recovery funding many potential projects that would create jobs for our members, invest in lasting products, and support the cultural vitality of many communities.

The language of the amendment, (Amendment No. 175, as filed) is, “None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, arts center, or highway beautification project, including renovation, remodeling, construction, salaries, furniture, zero-gravity chairs, big screen televisions, beautification, rotating pastel lights, and dry heat saunas.”

This is a really oddly worded amendment.  How do casinos and buying “big screen televisions” and “dry heat saunas” go with museums, community parks, arts centers, theaters (which is pretty vague – for profit?  Not-for Profit?  Puppet Theatre?  Childrens’ Theatre?) in the same bill?  This is an awfully sneaky way to remove the possibility of funding from some very important venues and projects in America.

Also, what in the Hell is a “rotating pastel light?”  I guess whatever it is, Ye Olde Gentleman from Oklahoma REALLY hates them.

You vote however you’d like – obviously this is America, and you can vote however you wish.  Find contact information for your senators at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm and let them know how you feel about Amendment 175.