Lighting Equipment Safety
Learn industry standard safety techniques for working with light fixtures
Keeping Lighting Equipment Neat and Organized
One of the best ways to avoid accidents on set is to keep the set neat and organized. Organization isn’t just a matter of appearance; but creates a more efficient and far safer environment than one that is allowed to devolve. This isn’t necessarily an easy task though – rushed schedules, reduced manpower and the constant pressure to work faster means the has to forcefully assert order to combat entropy.
When working with lighting equipment, here are some simple procedures to help keep your set organized:
• Always create and maintain an organized staging area - that is a designated space - for lighting equipment
• Always arrange the gear so there are isles through the staging area to get to every piece of equipment without having to move anything or climb over anything.
• Always set up lights on stands in rows, with all the standard accessories: place the barn doors on the light, hang the scrim bag on the stand, and neatly hang the wrapped power cable on the knuckle of the stand..All lights and stands should be ready to be brought to set on a moments notice. Much like light stands, C-stands should also be complete (stand, gobo head and arm), and can be nested together.
• Once a lighting setup is finished, bring unneeded lights back to the staging area, complete with all their accessories, and put them back into neat rows.
• Always store extension cords coiled and tied, and organized in crates or by some other method that assures they can be located and grabbed easily when needed.
• Always remove and coil any unused extensions as soon as they are no longer in use. If they are likely to be used again right away, you can coil them and position them next to the power outlet where they will be handy. Otherwise return the stingers to the staging area. This will save you time later.
• Always pick up pieces of diffusion, clothes pins, blackwrap and other expendables that may get dropped on the floor, so people don’t accidentally slip on them.
Securing Light Stands
Lights are very often raised up on stands to heights above head level. If not properly secured, stands can fall over and strike cast and crew, causing physical damage to equipment and faciltiies, causing head and body injuries and even burns or cuts from hot lights and broken glass. Follow these guidelines to properly secure light stands:
Always put a sandbag on a light stand to keep it from tipping over
• Always place a sand bag on the leg of the stand. This ballast lowers the light’s center of gravity and makes it much harder to destabilize the stand. Tall light stands can place a light 10 or 12 feet in the air and require two or more sand bags. The heavier the light on the stand, the bigger the sand bags used. A general rule of thumb – add one sandback for every stage a stand is entended. Sand bags are available in sizes from 5 lbs. up to 35 lbs, so choose an appropriate bag for the weight of the light, the size of the stand, and the environment in which you’re shooting.
• Whenever you set-up a light, there will usually be some unused length of cord. The proper place for this cord is coiled at the bottom of the stand so that the cord will play out easily when a lighting technician moves the light.. Slack cable should not be left at the electrical socket or where it is liable to get kicked, tangled and strewn around the set.
• Never allow a “clothes-line cable” that stretches at a diagonal, instead of dropping to the ground beneath the light. A clothesline cable is an accident waiting to happen. Someone will not see the cable; they will walk into it, and yank the light down. If the cord is not long enough, employ an extension, even if you only need another foot of cord.
• Always secure barndoors to the light with safety chain in the event it comes off its brackets. [Illustration]
• Stands with wheels must be immobilized when in use. If the rolling stands has wheel locks., at least two of the wheels should be locked. Locking just one wheel still allows the stand to pivot). If the rolling stand has no locks then immobilize the stand with the proper number of sandbags for the height of the stand, the weight of the light and the environmental conditions.
Potential Hazards Associated with Lighting Equipment
One of the easiest ways to prevent an accident is prevention, and that begins with what you wear.
Protecting your Hands
When handling lighting equipment it is highly advisable to wear work gloves. Gloves protect your hands from dirt and grime, cuts, pinches and (most of all) burns. They make it possible to grab a hot light with your hands to adjust it. Work gloves should be leather or another material that will not melt or burn, and will protect your hands from the extreme heat.
Now, work gloves are not intended to provide protection from electric shock. When the gloves become saturated with moisture or sweat, an electric current can still pass through the gloves into your body. To prevent a risk of shock, qualified electricians and lighting technician who meters an electrical circuit are required by code to wear special voltage-rated gloves. Of course, this is not something you’ll be needing to do unless you are working with a large scale portable power distribution system as a qualified lighting technician. Regardless of the type of gloves you are wearing, never touch an exposed energized electric part, for example, never open a light to change a burnt-out lamp while it is still plugged into power.
When working with hot lights, use these simple guidelines to protect yourself from burns:
• Always wear gloves; preferably long enough to protect wrists.
• Always use needle nose pliers, not your fingers, to remove scrims from hot lights. If you don’t have needle nose pliers, you can take a clothespin, which is commonly used to attach colored gels and diffusion to lights, and reverse it so that the pointed ends can pinch the scrims.
• A heavy light (like a 5k or 10k) can pinch your hands or fingers between sections of the stand if you let it come down too quickly. Be sure your hands are clear of the bottom of the section casting on the stand and always use two people to lower heavy lights.
• To prevent an electrical shock, always unplug lights before opening up the light
• Always keep your fingers away from the blades of the plug or pins on connectors when plugging and unplugging them.
• Always inspect equipment before you use it. Never use equipment that shows damage, excessive wear, or where bare wires are showing.
Lens or Lamp Breakage
• Fresnel and ellipsoidal light fixtures have high-temperature glass lenses that provide more control over shaping the light. These lenses can break if subjected to physical abuse, or shock cooling.
• Always protect hot lights from water spray. Spray, carried by the wind, landing on the glass will cause high temperature differential that will crack the glass. Gels and diffusion can be used to protect the glass from spray, mist or drizzle.
• Both Fresnel and open face lights are required to have wire mesh safety screens to prevent lens glass from falling out of the light in the event that the lamp or lens shatters. Be sure all lights are fitted with a safety screen. A cracked lens can break into pieces small enough to fall through the wire mesh. If you hear a lens crack, or lamp blow, clear people out from under it, and remove the light immediately.
Always use a lint-free, clean cloth when installing a bulb. Never touch it with your fingers as the oil from your skin will heat and cause it to blow out.
Replacing the Lamp
Lamps will sometimes blow out on a set, requiring you to replace the lamp. Never touch the surface of a quartz glass lamp with your fingers, or with dirty gloves. If you touch the lamp, the oily smudge from your fingers will heat the glass excessively when the light is turned on, causing the glass envelope to bubble. This greatly shortens the life of the lamp, and may cause it to fail structurally. Always hold the lamp with a soft clean lint free material. The lamp usually comes wrapped in a scrap of foam that will serve this purpose.
Lamps will sometimes fail with a sudden bang like a firecracker. This never fails to put actors’ nerves on end. If the quartz lamp breaks and bits of hot glass are able to fall down out of the light this could pose a hazard. If this happens, clear people away from the light quickly and make sure that the quartz does not melt holes in the set, floor or other set dressing. Wait for it to cool and clean up the sharp glass before continuing.
Melting Stuff and Setting Things on Fire
• Lights should not be placed so close to walls, ceilings or any combustible material that the heat could melt or burn the surrounding surfaces. Remember 70% of the energy used by a tungsten light is radiated as heat, 30% as light. So tungsten lights are actually more efficient heaters than lights. A hot light will bubble the paint off the wall if placed too close to the surface. A flag set too close can start to smolder. A bounce card may melt, and eventually catch fire. Placing your bare hand in the beam will tell you very quickly what is “too close” to the light.
• Certain lights have very intense beams capable of creating significant heat close to the light. Open face lights, PAR-64 lights (such as PAR cans or Molepars), large lights “spotted in” are all capable of setting fire to materials placed too close to the light.
• A hot scrim pulled out of a light will melt carpet or fabric, and scorch wood. Never set the scrim down indiscriminately, rather, place hot scrims in the scrim bag between two other scrims to help protect the bag.
• When you’re finished with a light, or upon wrap at the end of the day, always shut off the lights first to allow them to cool before taking them off stands, or placing then in cases.
HMIs, or Metal Halide Arc lights as they are more correctly known, are highly efficient daylight colored lights that are available in many forms: most commonly Fresnel, open-faced, and Par configurations. They serve a valuable function in our lighting arsenal. However, there are a couple of important safety issues unique to HMIs that you must be aware of when using them.
Direct light from an HMI lamp puts out a large amount of ultra violet radiation (UV), enough to give you a very bad sunburn in just a few minutes. Looking directly at a burning HMI lamp can cause retinal burns. To protect us from UV exposure, HMI fixtures feature a built-in UV filter that is carefully designed to prevent dangerous amounts of UV from escaping from the housing. To ensure HMIs only operate wth this UV filter in place, a shut down mechanism prevents the light from working if the lens door is open. The lens removes a great deal of the UV from the beam, enough to make it completely safe at normal operating distances. However the following guidelines must always be followed to prevent damaging UV exposure.
• Never attempt to defeat the UV protection switch in the lens door.
• Never use an HMI if the housing gets damaged or bent. The housing is designed to prevent direct light from escaping. Direct light can cause serious skin and eye damage.
• Always check the warnings on the side of the fixture before setting the light close to your subject. For example, people who require very high lumen intensity when shooting high speed photography are apt to put lights too close. The subject can receive a damaging dose of UV over an extended period of time. Consult the manufacturer’s literature regarding the time/distance equation for the lights you are using.
Working with HMIs
One component in anHMI lamps is mercury, a dangerous, toxic metal . To prevent Mercury contamination, always return burnt out lamps to the studio facility or rental house for proper disposal. If a lamp breaks, always use gloves during clean up, then wash hands thoroughly. Follow the lamp manufacturers instructions that come with the lamp. You should also know that, fluorescent lamps also contain mercury, so the same handling and clean-up procedures apply.
Most newer HMI power supplies use electronic ballasts to control and regulate the power sent to the fixture. These electronics include large capacitors that hold a charge for several minutes after the power supply is de-energized. Never attempt to open up a power supply or you risk an electric shock.
Cords and Cables
Always inspect cords and cables for damage, or signs of overheating connectors before use. If the connector shows parts that are black or brown, malformed or melted, discontinue use and return the equipment for service by a qualified person.
Electrical power cords and cables should be run in such a way that protects the cords from damage, and prevents trip hazards.
• Where a number of cords or cables cross a fire lane, or walkway, always use a ramp, rubber mat or cable crossover to protect the cable and reduce the risk of tripping.
• If using a matt, always use gaffers taoe to tape down the edges to prevent a trip hazard.
• When running cables across a floor, always use gaffers tape to tape the cables down in high-traffic areas such as in a doorway, where they present particular risk of a person tripping or rolling their foot on the cable. This is especially true if actors need to cross over a cable during a scene, where they are focused on their performance and not the cable beneath them. When taping down cables, always use wide gaffers tape to completely cover the cord.
• When you’re ready to pull up the cable, always pull the tape up first, then the cable. If you try to pull them up both together, the tape will stick to itself and cost you a lot of time trying to tear the tape off.
Lighting Equipment On Location
Working on location has its own set of hazards, making safety awareness even more important. When shooting on location, always follow these safety guidelines:
• Protect cables from damage from foot traffic, vehicles, carts and equipment. Use cable crossovers to span walkways.
• If water is present, or may become present, the circuits must be protected by GFCI. See module on Electrical Safety for more information.
• Never place hot lights directly under fire suppression sprinkler heads. Fire suppression sprinkler heads are designed to spray water when the head reaches a preset temperature, which would normally indicate a fire. A hot burning light right under the head will trigger the head. The trigger, once released, is not resettable. So, if triggered, the water will continue to spray the room until someone can come and shut off the system, in fact it will continue for some time after the main valve is closed. Obviously this would be a disaster.
• Never obstruct or cover the sprinkler heads.
• Always inspect the location during the location scout for potential exposed live electrical hazards.
• Always provide at least 3-ft. clearance in all direction around electrical panels. In the event of a fire, fire fighters need to get to electrical boxes to shut off power.
• Never tie in to the an electrical panel to use house power unless the work is performed by a licensed electrician with a proper permit. Tie-ins are illegal in many states, including California. An electrical panel encloses exposed live parts; one mistake can cause electrocution.
• If you are working with lights that require more than 15Amps , and make the decision to use the existing outlets in the building, make a thorough evaluation of the circuit layout. First, locate all the circuit breakers. Second, patch the lights to separate circuits in order to prevent overload. Keep in mind hair dryers and other power-hungry appliances may be in use by other departments. Third, do not share circuits with computer or sound equipment (tripping the breaker could do serious harm to a computer hard drive or digital recording device).
• Most importantly, never leave hot lights unattended Light fixtures are portable heaters, generating so much heat that something unexpected may bring a combustible material close to the light and start a fire. A breeze through the open window blows the curtain onto a light, and ignites a fire, or the light topples over and sets a bed on fire. Always have enough crew around so that lights are not left burning unsupervised.
• Finally, turn off lights when not in use during meal breaks, when people are not present.