Towards a Safe Work Environment in the Theatre and Entertainment Industry in Nigeria
Kenneth Efakponana ENI, PhD
Department of Theatre Arts
Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island
Bayelsa State, Nigeria
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The environment under which the theatre and entertainment technologist work in Nigeria is strewn with a lot of hazards. There are no standard codes of practice. Within the theatre, there is the manipulation of scenery, work with high voltage electricity and fragile equipment, working in confine spaces while manipulating machines for the creation of special effects. Due to the fact that most of the times, these personnel work in cramped environments that have little space and in environments that are not proper theatre spaces, they face a great risk in their day to day work. Since the emergence of the theatre as a profession in Nigeria, its practitioners have been unable to develop a safety code for its practice. Environmental health and safety issues regarding theatre practice are not even part of the syllabus of most departments in Nigerian universities offering Theatre Arts. Nollywood as a growing film industry that has attracted much international attention and patronage is also without a safety code for practitioners. This paper adopts the critical discourse analysis of the qualitative research method in examining the environment in which the theatre and entertainment technologist work in Nigeria while proffering suggestions on how the work environment can be made safer.
Theatre is an art form that encompasses the totality of human endeavour. It captures man in the totality of his living existence. It goes beyond the physical plane to capture his emotional and psychological internal motivations. In doing this, theatre employs all means at its disposal to realize its objectives; hence, we sometime say that though theatre is life, in performance, it is larger than life. There is no field of human study or academic focus that is not invaded by the science and art that the theatre has become in our modern day. Performing arts activities present a wide diversity of health and safety hazards which are not limited to the physical, psychological, chemical and mechanical hazards. Because of this, accidents happen daily in the theatre. Proper safety measure is therefore a necessity for the practice of the theatre. Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) issues in the theatre extend to cast, crew, and audience members and sometimes to the immediate neighbouring surrounding to the performance site. It requires training and awareness of those involve in its production and those living within close proximity to the site of its production. Most often, it only requires common sense in its practice in avoiding carelessness that may lead to hazards in eliminating potential accidents that may be fatal.
Since the emergence of the theatre as a profession in Nigeria, its practitioners have been unable to develop a code of safety for its practice. Environmental health and safety issues regarding theatre practice are not even part of the syllabus of most departments in Nigerian universities offering theatre arts. There is a serious concern by its practitioners over growing cases of accidents and in most cases where accidents occur, the theatre technician or actor is left to suffer alone with no mitigating measure as regards work hazard related insurance. The main focus in occupational health is on three different objectives:
- the maintenance and promotion of workers’ health and working capacity;
- the improvement of working environment and work to become conducive to safety and health;and
- the development of work organizations and working cultures in a direction which supports health and safety at work and in doing so also promotes a positive social climate and smooth operation and may enhance productivity of the undertakings (Occupational Health and Safety Practice 6).
In a single theatre production, the share volume of professionals and departments that work to ensure its success calls for a proper safety management strategy. From scene shop, costume shop, lighting, rigging and striking, stunts and special effects, to performers in performance situations, all need to be safety conscious to avoid accidents that will mar the success of the production. It calls for a degree of alertness and procedural compliance to work in the environment that modern theatre has become.
From today’s perspective, theatre and performance technology has become very difficult to separate. The theatre has embraced technology to the extent that it is now difficult to separate it and still be able to do theatre. The rising profile of technology in the theatre only makes it apparent why a code of safety needs to be developed for the Nigerian theatre. Although, many scholars have argued on the lack of technology in the Nigeria theatre (See Eni 35-46), their arguments does not in any way invalidate the need for a code to regulate health and safety issues in the Nigerian theatre and entertainment industry.
Safety and Accident Causation Theories
Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is a subject in which “the medical, economic and sociological aspects are usually interwoven and it requires a broad grasp, as well as intimate knowledge of the conditions to avoid the dangers and correct the injustices to which people who work are subjected” (Abrams 34). Work place safety is also a matter of labour relations and man’s relationship to fellow man. The work environment is largely determined by social systems under which we live. The employee largely accepts the conditions provided by the employer; and in our environment where unemployment is high, the job and occupational choice of the employee are highly limited.
If we understand that work related accidents are social product of labour and capital relations, and therefore preventable, “work can then be the source of good health and happiness rather than disease and misery” (Abrams 37). Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) organizations around the world rely on some specific safety theories around which risk management principles are based in managing safety issues around the workplace. There are several theories which could be applied to the Nigerian situation.
Vincent Ho, in “Application of Criminology Theories to Safety Management,” discusses the similarities between three popular criminology theories and safety practice which could be adopted and applied to the theatre situation in Nigeria. The first theory that Ho discusses is the “broken window theory.” The broken widow theory suggests that if broken parts are not repaired promptly, vandals are likely to cause more damage which may lead to more serious crimes. This theory is based on the belief that better monitoring and maintenance culture will reduce the possibilities of accident and a clean and orderly workplace is a boost to the moral of the workforce which leads to greater productivity. The second is the “zero tolerance theory,” which ascribes automatic punishment for infractions of stated rules; and the third is “community policing which advocates a collaborative and community approach to safety management. It calls for an awareness of safety issues surrounding the site of production by all stake holders.
Another popular safety theory which safety experts have applied in managing safety issues around the workplace is the “Domino Safety Theory” popularised by H.W. Heinrich and Alfred Lateiner, two pioneer industrial safety experts. They ascribed the occurrence of accidents at the workplace to a sequence of events which in turn spurns other events. They used five dominos in a row to illustrate the theory.
The first domino – background – represents a worker’s lifestyle and personality. The second domino – personal characteristics – represents a worker’s attitude, level of knowledge, and physical and mental conditions. The third domino –unsafe acts and unsafe conditions- represents the unplanned event caused by an unsafe act or condition. The fifth domino – the injury – represents someone getting hurt. For any given incident, not much can be done about the worker’s background and personal characteristics. The domino that must be targeted is unsafe act and unsafe condition (Forest Operation Review 38). What the Domino Safety Theory demonstrates is that “accidents are typically the result of a series of interrelated or linked events, and that once the root cause is identified, in many cases, the accident could have been prevented” (City of Miami General Safety Manual 1).
Beyond the theories, theatre organisations and production outfits need to institutionalised in their organisations safety management systems (SMS) backed by an enabling law. Everyone involved in the production should be responsible for general workplace safety and for personal and equipment safety. “It can also be helpful to develop a policy of a “Just Culture,” where everyone is encouraged to make an observation or speak of a safety concern without fear of retribution” (Conyers 1). Above all theories, as applied to safety management, the golden rule as applied to the theatre is “if you don’t know what you are doing, don’t do it” (Parker et al 548). In the theatre, around the lighting booth and scene shops, high voltage electricity which is used to power stage lighting systems, tools and machines in the scene shop can kill. Safety procedures need to be followed to ensure that personnel, equipment and audience members are fully protected.
Theatre Accidents and Safety Issues
Standards of safety in theatre and entertainment industry represent a major development area in the public life of those involved in the theatre and entertainment business in Nigeria. The non-existence of standards of practice or safety codes speaks negatively of the state of Nigeria cultural development. In theatre education in Nigeria, safety studies are not even part of the curriculum of most departments. Students with little knowledge of carpentry and electricity work in dangerous situations without proper expert supervision.
Theatre productions embrace a wide range of necessary activity when mounting a performance, including rehearsals, design and implementation of technical elements, performance, and strike and clean up. Each of the activities requires teaching and learning the safe use of equipment and facilities (Bruce viii). Again, there are no statistics as to the number of stage accidents that have happened on the Nigerian educational theatre stage. Students a are injured daily as the work with materials and equipment.
Any profession that does not take the health and safety of its work force seriously in contemporary times is going to be faced by many issues which will encumber its successes and growth. Most organizations, (the theatre and entertainment outfits in Nigeria are not excluded) have processes and arrangements for dealing with issues that involves finance, personnel, and payroll. Safety issues are often taking for granted and left to the individual to handle. There are no policies that institutes workplace behaviours and attitudes as an integral part of the work process. Safety standard in the industry is not regulated; despite its level of development that has attracted global attention, the industry in Nigeria is still an all-comers affair. Although there are several attempts by some bodies to regulate the industry in the formation of guides, the guides are mostly ineffective in their capacities to fully regulate the industry in the absence of an enabling law and built in capacity to enforce regulations.
For every instructional activity, correct, safe techniques as well as a wise selection of appropriate resources, materials and theatrical experience must be carefully considered in regard to safety. Safe facilities for instruction and performance require thorough planning, careful managing and constant monitoring during theatre activities. Class enrolment and audience size should not exceed the designated capacity of any instructional or performance setting.
Theatre production embraces a wide range of necessary activities when mounting a performance, including rehearsals, design and implementation of technical elements, performance and strike and cleanup. Each of these activities requires teaching and learning the safe use of equipment and facilities (Bruce viii).
It is no more news that the doyen of technical theatre practice in Nigeria, Dexter Lyndersay suffered an accident in the theatre, which led to his losing his sight before his death in 2006. Though the accident did not occur on the Nigerian stage, its example, based on the importance of Dexter to the Nigerian theatre cannot pass unnoticed by the Nigerian theatre. That someone so versed in the art and practice of the theatre should suffer such fatality is a point that should call for attention in implementing safety procedures in the theatre.
Each performance is a live event in real time as opposed to home entertainment, chance events continuously threaten to disrupt the live performance. Accidents can so disrupt a performance that it becomes the most memorable aspect of the event of the day. Accidents can sometimes cause delay in opening the show or outright cancellation of a planned event. All the efforts in putting together a performance can be ruined by a single accident. Stage performances are even more sensitive to accidents as a major actor tripping on misplaced props backstage on opening night and falling, causing him injury can become a problem. A blown fuse, falling set pieces, broken pieces of scenery, special effect gone awry, or costumes can cause a major accident that can lead to delay in a production opening or even stoppage of the play during production. Sometime we are lucky that the show can still go on after the incident only a slight delay results but most times it leads to outright cancellation and if the play had to go on, it can no more run on full steam. News agencies are quick to pick on theatre and entertainment industry disasters because of the human and celebrity angle to the stories to sell their columns. Accidents have the capacity to ruin the theatre and entertainment business and scare away patrons and investors.
There are a number of reasons which are deductible from the way theatre is practiced in Nigeria that creates safety concerns. These issues border on lack of proper training and misunderstanding of safety procedures. Consciously ignoring safety procedures, poor planning, fatigue, not staying focused on your work or being distracted, financial considerations, the show must go on mentality, hurrying, and poor maintenance culture amongst numerous other factors. Without a safety management system (SMS) in place and the absence of a safety expert on location, safety issues are left to the individual to handle and most times, are not even part of planning considerations.
Safety Issues in Nollywood
The film production worldwide is known to be a very risky business. Fatal accidents on movie sets are known to occur. The Los Angeles Times gave the following statistics of some fatal accidents while shooting on movies sets:
- 23 July, 1982: Actor Vic Morrow and two children were killed when a helicopter fell on them during filming of a special-effect sequence for the movie, The Twilight Zone
- 16 May, 1989: Five people killed in the Philippines when a helicopter crashes during filming of the Chuck Norris film, Stranglehold: Delta Force II.
- 20 Aug. 1989: Film producer Toby Halicki, a cult following with car crash movies, is killed when a water tower falls prematurely during filming for the movie, Gone in 60 Seconds II.
- 3 Jan. 1992: A worker was crushed to death between two lighting equipment cranes on the set of the Kelvin Costner movie, The Bodyguard.
- 31 Mar. 1993: Actor Brandon Lee was accidentally killed by a 44-calibre slug during the filming of The Crow. The slug was fired from a prop gun that was supposed to be loaded with blanks (Los Angeles Times).
It is there evident that the situation under which the theatre artist works globally is a dangerous one. The situation under which the theatre artist works in Nigeria is even more precarious.2 In March 2014, the media was awash with the story of Emma Ehumadu and Jim Iyke, who were involved in an accident while shooting at Asaba, Delta State. Don Dumex reporting for Nigeria Films, an online media outfit, dedicated to Nollywood news and reviews reported that: Nollywood actor, Emma Ehumadu is a very lucky man! …he almost lost his life while filming an armed robbery scene at a movie location in Asaba, Delta State on Wednesday, march 12th. The accident occurred around 2pm. At the time, Emma Ehumadu and Zuby Michael were in the car which was being driven by Jim Iyke.
Unfortunately, the brakes of the car failed, during Jim Iyke’s attempt to avoid hitting bystanders, Emma Ehumadu was hit on the head by the open door of a stationary vehicle. Jim Iyke immediately drove the injured actor to the hospital, while Zubby Michael administered first aid to him (Dumex n.p).
Since its emergence as a growing global film industry in Nigeria, Nollywood has been having its share of safety issues while shooting. Most accidents that happen on set while shooting in Nollywood are not reported or recorded. There are no statistics! If the artist is famous enough to attract the attention of the Nigerian media, that is when the public becomes aware that something has happened. The motivation for the media report is to sell their column and attract readership and not to forestall future occurrence. Usually, everyone stays aloof; no investigation by safety experts is done when an accident occurs. In the few cases where investigation are done, they are carried out by the Nigerian police, the intention of the police is to look out for the fact weather a crime has been committed.
The theatre and entertainment industry in Nigeria has grown immensely in the last few years to global attention. Nollywood has also become known globally and is currently employing a large number of people in its production. Workplace safety in theatre and entertainment industry is therefore very vital. Issues of safety affect production staff and volunteers daily in show-business. Often when taken for granted, the cost of ensuring safety standards is less when compared to the cost of managing incidents arising from negligence to safety standards. Diligence to the safety standard, common sense in handling unsafe situations and a good maintenance culture are vital virtues in the theatre and entertainment industry which help to protect staff, equipment, patrons of the arts and those living within close proximity to areas where the business of entertainment is produced. Therefore, to work in the industry today, background knowledge of safety is required in order to be able to make reasonable decisions and to take all reasonable precautions in circumstances to protect the health and safety of others. Performing arts productions and events in Nigeria must follow global standards in ensuring workplace health and safety of those involved in its production. Proactive management of Occupational Health and Safety issues around the workplace can lead to the creation of a positive work environment which in turn can lead to growth in productivity.
- The need to establish accident reporting structure: Most accidents that occur on the Nigerian stage go on recorded since there are no reporting structures in place, and therefore statistics are not available. Theatre outfits should begin by establishing sample accident and incident reporting structures that should be followed in reporting incidents in the theatre. A reported incident forms a learning point in avoiding future repetition of such processes that are accident prone.
- Provisions for regular inspections and maintenance: There should be provisions for regular inspections and maintenanceof equipment and facilities in our theatre departments and film producing companies. Nollywood regulators should have a safety audit body whose representatives should be on site at every shooting. Part of the responsibility of the safety personnel on site will be to enforce employee and employer’s compliance to safety standards and when accidents occur, the safety representative on site will ensure that such incidents are fully reported following an established safety management system.
- Having specially trained personnel: Only specially trained personnel should be allowed to handle stage rigging, electrical wiring, stunts, and lighting apparatus. The technical department should be more conscious of safety in its operations.
- Having theatre safety instructors: Theatre departments in Nigerian universities should have a theatre safety instructor whose duties it will be to instruct and rehearse students in emergency procedures, such as for evacuation of the stage and auditorium in case of an accident and to rehearse students in the implementation of emergency procedures.
- Having legal frameworks: There is the need for the industry to have a legal framework and a code of practice that will address safety issues that are peculiar to the industry.
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