Print This Page

Orchestra Pits
Safety Guideline for the Live Performance Industry in Ontario

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.

The orchestra pit, by its very nature, is the equivalent of a large, open stage trap and is a constant risk to the safety of stage performers, musicians and stage personnel. Any guideline for pit safety should begin with the reminder that all theatre workers should be responsible for each others' safety--particularly directors when blocking their actors in a production, and stage performers when handling properties and loose items on stage out of sight of the pit musicians. Common sense should prevail at all times in the pit.

Definitions

Contractor
(Personnel Manager) The person responsible for hiring the orchestra musicians.
Leader
(Music Director, Conductor) The person responsible for the musical performance of the orchestra.
Orchestra Pit
An area immediately downstage of the lip of the stage and sometimes partially beneath the stage, separated from the audience by a pit well and rail, and in which musicians' heads are below the surface of the stage when the musicians are seated for performance.
Alternative Orchestra Area
Any area other than the orchestra pit in which musicians are seated for performance.

General Guidelines

  1. The contractor or leader should be responsible for making a pit plan available to the person in charge of the pit in sufficient time for the set-up and maintenance of the pit.
  2. In cases where it is architecturally impossible to install an orchestra pit cover and where an alternative orchestra area is used, all due care should be taken by the management of the venue to protect the members of the orchestra.

Pit Covers

  1. The management of a venue that has an orchestra pit should be responsible for providing a pit safety cover to prevent accidental falls by personnel into the pit, and to catch material which, when accidentally dropped from the stage, could cause injury.
  2. When the pit is occupied, the pit safety cover should be in place. At all other times the pit cover should be in place or a warning barrier should be placed at waist level, sufficiently upstage of the pit to prevent people from falling in.
  3. An orchestra pit safety cover should:
    • be able to support the weight of a human body falling from the stage or any raised performance area;
    • be flameproof;
    • not interfere with the proper ventilation of the orchestra pit;
    • allow adequate line of sight between conductor and musicians and between conductor and performers;
    • conform to the shape of the pit opening. As the size and shape of each orchestra pit is different, a safety pit cover requires custom fabrication and installation. If a given production uses scenic elements that extend into the pit area, the pit cover may need to be re-configured or replaced.
  4. The pit safety cover should extend across the entire width of the pit and a sufficient distance over the orchestra pit from the lip of the stage to prevent accidental falls by personnel into the pit and to catch material which, when accidentally dropped from the stage, could cause injury.
  5. The shape and size of the opening in the pit cover for the conductor should allow the conductor to conduct without impediment while not unduly compromising the safety of the musicians.
  6. The pit cover should be an acoustically transparent flameproof net or grid. The net should be of a size and strength appropriate for the impact it may sustain during the production.
  7. A flameproof theatrical gauze or scrim may be stretched over the orchestra pit cover to prevent smaller lightweight objects from falling into the pit. Care should be taken to allow proper ventilation of the orchestra pit if a gauze is used.

Risers/Chair Rails on Risers

  1. Each riser on which seated musicians are required to play should be provided with chair rails of sufficient strength and height to prevent chairs or music stands from sliding off the edge of the riser.
  2. The edges of all risers should be adequately marked.
  3. Access points to the risers should be adequately marked.

Sound Levels

  1. In the section on sound levels, the General Guidelines set forth recommended limits of impulse and steady state sound pressure levels, above which hearing conservation programs should be implemented. The Sound Level Reduction Guidelines outline several strategies which used singly, or in combination, are likely to provide a significant reduction in sound pressure levels received at the ear of the affected worker.

    It is recommended that where workers and management are jointly engaged in efforts to reduce the effect of possible short- and long-term auditory damage to musicians performing in orchestra pits, reference be made to the Sound Levels Guidelines contained in the Safety Guidelines. It is hoped that these guidelines will help to obtain an acceptable sound environment without interfering with the artistic integrity of the production.

Lighting

  1. Adequate lighting should be provided both before and after performance to allow safe movement in and out of the pit.
  2. Music stand lighting sufficient to prevent eye strain should be provided during the performance.
  3. All music stand light levels and changes to levels, including dimming, blackouts and restoration, should be set and rehearsed before the first performance.

Wiring on Floor

Electrical Wiring:

  1. A pit plan showing seating, risers and stand placement should be given to the person responsible for the pit set-up in sufficient time to allow the pit to be wired safely with enough circuits for all the stands and other electrical requirements before the first rehearsal.
  2. Adequate power should be provided for all stand lighting and any other electrical requirements.
  3. If changes to the pit plan are required, sufficient notice should be given to the person responsible for the pit set-up.
  4. All cables in the pit should be of adequate length and be taped down after the set-up is complete. No cable should be stretched to reach the plug-in box.
  5. Re-plugging in the pit should be done only by a competent person.
  6. All cables should be positioned so as not to impede the normal traffic patterns in the pit.

Audio Wiring:

  1. Placement of microphones should allow for adequate room for instrument performance and should not impede the traffic patterns in the pit.
  2. The placement of cables should follow the same recommendations as those for electrical wiring, and should be done only by competent persons.

Housekeeping/Floor Hazards/Fire Hazards

  1. Management should be responsible for general cleaning of the pit on a regular basis.
  2. Each pit musician should be responsible for the removal of all personal items and garbage daily.
  3. Instruments and cases should not be left where they interfere with safe access to and cleaning of the pit.
  4. Garbage receptacles should be reasonably accessible to each pit area.
  5. Open containers of water for reeds or beverages are a potential electrical hazard. Only covered containers should be brought into the pit.
  6. The pit should be vacated during any major re-organization of the pit set-up.
  7. At least two all-purpose fire extinguishers should be strategically placed in the orchestra pit.
  8. All ceiling obstruction (sprinkler heads, light fixtures, pit cameras) should be protected and well-marked.
  9. Personnel in the pit should be protected from any pyrotechnical debris.

Ventilation and Air Conditioning

  1. An orchestra pit is a workplace that, in accordance with section 127 of Regulation 851 (“Industrial Establishments”), R.R.O. 1990, “shall be adequately ventilated by either natural or mechanical means such that the atmosphere does not endanger the health and safety of workers”.
  2. The ventilation in an orchestra pit, in accordance with section 128 of that regulation, shall:
    • replace the air exhausted;
    • be free from contamination with any hazardous dust, vapour, smoke, fume, mist or gas;
    • not blow settled dust into the pit;
    • not interfere with any exhaust system;
    • not cause any undue drafts;
    • prevent the return of exhausted air containing contaminants.
  3. An orchestra pit is a workplace that, in accordance with section 129, shall be maintained at a “temperature suitable for the type of work performed”, and shall be at a temperature “not less than 18° Celsius”.

Performance Space/Ergonomic Factors

  1. Lack of sufficient space in which to play an instrument may cause repetitive motion strain or injury. A pit plan that gives adequate performance space for each musician should be provided by the contractor. Any problems with the pit set-up should be communicated to the contractor or the leader.
  2. Proper seating for each performing musician should be provided in the form of a well-maintained chair of medium to low height with a flat back and a level seat.

More Information

Call toll-free

Call 1-877-202-0008 anytime to report critical injuries, fatalities or work refusals. For general inquiries about workplace health and safety and to report potentially unsafe work conditions, call 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. In an emergency, always call 911 immediately.

Acknowledgements

The Ontario Advisory Committee for Health and Safety in Live Performance is made up of professionals in live performance from across the province – large and small, commercial and not-for-profit, service organizations and professional associations. We have had input from individual experts both national and international. The Advisory Committee and the Ministry of Labour would like to thank the following people for their help in making this guideline possible.

* Indicates a main committee member at the time the sub-committee was active.

  • Ron Dorman*
  • Cathryn Gregor, Canadian Opera Company
  • Chuck Homewood*
  • Peter Lamb, LivEnt
  • Allan Macmillan*
  • Stephen Mosher, Toronto Musicians’ Association
  • Sharon Poitras*
  • Nigel Romeril, National Ballet Company

ISBN 978-1-4435-9705-0 (HTML)

Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.

It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.

While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.