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Pyrotechnic Special Effects
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.

Theatrical pyrotechnics are governed by the Explosives Regulatory Division of Natural Resources Canada.

These guidelines have been adapted from the Ontario Film and Television Industry Section 21 Guidelines, the National Fire Protection Association Code 1126 (Standard for the Use of Pyrotechnics), the California Film Industry Fire/Life Safety Handbook and the Alberta Section of Canadian Institute of Theatre Technology, Pyro Standards.

Any person who assumes the responsibility for pyrotechnics must have a clear understanding and working knowledge of the guidelines of the NFPA Code 1126 and of the requirements of the Explosives Regulatory Division of Natural Resources Canada.

Definitions

Pyrotechnic special effect
An effect where a chemical mixture is used to produce visible or audible effects by combustion, deflagration or detonation.
Pyrotechnician
The person who is responsible for pyrotechnic safety, who controls, initiates, or otherwise creates special effects, and who is responsible for the storing, setting up and removing of pyrotechnic materials for the production.
Blocking
The process by which the director moves the performers around the stage. A person (generally the stage manager) notes these movements in the prompt script in order to track all of the performers' movements during the show.
Deflagration
A rapid chemical reaction in which the output of heat is sufficient to enable the reaction to proceed and be accelerated without input of heat from another source. The effect of deflagration under confinement is an explosion.
Detonation
An extremely rapid chemical reaction in which the pressure generated is sufficient to cause the formation of a shock wave, which acts to cause the reaction to proceed. The effect of detonation without confinement is an explosion.
Dry run
A rehearsal to demonstrate an effect to all performers, crew and anyone else involved.

General Guidelines

  1. No child performer should be exposed to pyrotechnical effects unless written permission is received from a parent or guardian prior to rehearsal/performance.
  2. "No Smoking" and "Explosive" signs shall be posted where pyrotechnics are stored and handled.
  3. Handling, storage and preparation of pyrotechnic materials shall be in compliance with federal, provincial and local codes, and be within the manufacturer's guidelines.
  4. No smoking shall be allowed where pyrotechnical devices are used.

    NOTE: Smoking may be allowed in performance as blocked in rehearsal and if approved by the pyrotechnician and the authority having jurisdiction.

  5. The transporting of pyrotechnical devices and materials shall be done in compliance with all applicable federal, provincial and local laws. Class 7.2.5 Explosives are covered under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act.
  6. Sufficient number of the appropriate fire extinguishers shall be located within a reasonable distance of all pyrotechnic materials being loaded, prepared for firing and fired. The number shall be determined by the authority having jurisdiction.

Performance Guidelines

  1. Whenever pyrotechnic special effects are to be used in a production, a pyrotechnician should be employed before the first rehearsal.
  2. The pyrotechnician should ensure that the authority having jurisdiction (generally the fire department or a Natural Resources Canada, Explosives Regulatory Division representative) has been notified of the use of pyrotechnics for the production.
  3. Before the rehearsal/performance, all personnel involved with the production should be notified that pyro effects are to be employed. This notice should also appear in writing on the daily call sheet for rehearsals where pyrotechnics are used. The nature of the effects should be specified in the daily call sheet.
  4. Before involving performers for the first time,
    • a dry run of the effects must take place on site to demonstrate timing, spacing and safety parameters;
    • safety equipment and safety precautions such as fire extinguishers, warning and communication systems should be in place;
    • the intended action, possible deviations and the authority to abort should be made clear;
    • all performers and support personnel should be warned of exposure to a hazard when performing or otherwise carrying out their responsibilities in the vicinity of a pyrotechnic special effect;
    • the dry run should take place in an environment as free of distractions as possible.
  5. Before any pyrotechnical sequence is performed for the first time, a technical rehearsal should be called.
  6. In addition to the normal blocking notes kept by the stage manager, blocking for the pyrotechnical effects should be put in writing by the pyrotechnician and distributed to all involved departments and individuals.
  7. The pyrotechnician should have the final authority to abort any effect.
  8. The pyrotechnician should be in attendance whenever a pyrotechnical effect is executed in rehearsal or performance.
  9. The stage manager or pyrotechnician should make clear to everyone involved in the production the location of exits and escape routes. The escape must provide unobstructed passage to the exterior of the building, structure or workspace.
  10. Whenever possible, only those performers and crew necessary for the success of the effect should be in close proximity to the effect. Other performers should remain at a safe distance (to be determined by the pyrotechnician).
  11. Immediately before any performance the pyrotechnician should make a final check of wiring, position, hookups and pyrotechnic devices to ensure that all are in proper working order. Adequate time should be allowed for this check.
  12. The pyrotechnician should have an unimpeded view of the effect. Where this is not possible, an assistant, who is in direct communication with the pyrotechnician and has an unimpeded view of the effect, should be assigned. The assistant should be familiar with the effect and the conditions that would qualify for aborting it.
  13. Immediately after each performance the pyrotechnician should verify that all pyrotechnic devices have fired. Any unfired pyrotechnic materials or devices should either be fired or disposed of in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.
  14. If, at any time, substantial changes become necessary for the success of the pyrotechnical effect, a meeting should be called by the pyrotechnician to confirm everyone's understanding of and agreement to the change(s). All changes (location, quantity, spacing) should be noted on the blocking plan and distributed to all involved departments and individuals.
  15. The pyrotechnician may have one or more designated assistants who take on the responsibilities during the pyrotechnician's absence. The pyrotechnician should ensure that the assistant(s) has the proper knowledge and training in order to comply with the pyrotechnician's scope of work. In the event of the pyrotechnician's departure from the production, the responsibilities of the pyrotechnician will transfer to an assistant.

NOTE:

Examples of assistants are stage manager, assistant electrician or anyone who demonstrates the knowledge required of the pyrotechnician as defined.

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.

Publications

1. Alberta Section, CITT, Pyro Standards

Canadian Institute for Theatre Technology (CITT)
2500 University Drive NW
Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4

2. Federal Regulations for Explosives Class 7.2.5

Natural Resources Canada
Explosives Regulatory Division
1431 Merivale Road
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G1
Tel.: (613) 948-5200
Fax: (613) 948-5195

3. Filming in California (replaces the Film Industry Fire/Life Safety Handbook)

California State Fire Marshal
PO Box 944246
Sacramento, California 94244-2460 USA
Tel: (916) 445-8200

4. National Fire Protection Association Code 1126 (Standard for the Use of Pyrotechnics)

Annex BookStore
105 Donly Drive South, PO Box 530
Simcoe, ON N3Y 4N5
Tel: 1-877-267-3473
Fax: 1-877-624-1940
E-mail: bookstore@annexweb.com

Fire Safety Canada
100 Strowger Blvd
Brockville, ON K6V 5W7
Tel: 1-866-379-6668
E-mail: peter.townshend@firesafetycouncil.com

Organizations and Associations

Natural Resources Canada
(Contact: Dave McCulloch)
Explosives Regulatory Division
1431 Merivale Road
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0G1

Fire Prevention Department
(Contact: Chief Ted Scovel)
New City Hall
100 Queen Street West
Toronto, Ontario
M5H 2N2

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.

  • Syme Jago*
  • Myles Patterson, PPA, Canada
  • David Pier, MP Associates, CA
  • Mark Rice, Stage FX
  • Eric Tucker, PPA, St. Louis
  • Dave McCulloch, Federal Dept. of Natural Resources
  • Ted Scovel, Chief, Toronto Fire Department
  • Larry Wheatley Sergeant, ETF Bomb Squad, Toronto Police Dept.

ISBN 978-1-4435-9713-5 (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.