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Maintenance: Lighting rigging

Maintenance: Lighting rigging
A rigging safety awareness workshop taking place

Maintenance: Lighting rigging

A ‘safety first’ philosophy should guide the maintenance of lighting rigging. Frank Wells investigates the considerations

Suspended lighting grids are commonly used in houses of worship to allow flexible below-ceiling mounting of stage lighting fixtures. Rigging can range from metal piping to hanging trusses and grids. Rigging can hang in a fixed position, as in most houses of worship, or in a more sophisticated stage set design that allows raising and lowering of mounting for service, repositioning of fixtures or the mounting of additional fixtures.

As the lighting fixtures, and the rigging itself, hang above the heads of your congregation, worship leaders and praise team, the safety of the installation is paramount. Qualified rigging professionals or structural engineers should be involved at the system concept, design and installation stage. Lighting fixtures should be installed as directed in manufacturer’s manuals using approved clamps and backup safety cables.

A badly neglected cable clamp is what regular inspections help to avoid (Image courtesy of Jabez Corbett from Pexels)
A badly neglected cable clamp is what regular inspections help to avoid (Image courtesy of Jabez Corbett from Pexels)

With safety as job one, the major component of lighting rigging maintenance is ensuring that the system elements are not just hung securely by their primary mounting, but also protected against failure by secondary safety cabling designed to protect against fixtures falling should primary fixture clamps fail. For example, I once attended a concert in a convention hotel ballroom that used traditional can lighting (like many HOWs use for general room lighting) where the band was playing so loud that the lighting fixtures were jarred out of a drop ceiling with only their safety cabling protecting the audience from danger. A house of worship would not likely be playing music that dangerously loud, but, over time, sonic vibrations and building mechanical vibrations can cause similar effects with any lighting fixture.

Inspections of lighting bars and trusses should confirm that these elements are level and that they are securely attached to their mounting hardware. Additionally, it should be verified that hardware or pulley assemblies and other components are securely mounted – screws, nuts and bolts should be tight, wire rope/cable/chain clamps and clips must be tight and secure, and turnbuckles must be wired to prevent loosening. Metal components, including hanging cabling, should be inspected for corrosion and rust. Stranded wire hanging cables should be inspected for any sign of fraying.

This extreme example of a fraying wire rope would create a dangerous situation in a lighting rig
This extreme example of a fraying wire rope would create a dangerous situation in a lighting rig

Motorised lift systems should be operated routinely to help ensure reliability – these systems need their exercise. Listen for any sounds of strain in the motors or unusual noises like grinding. Such sounds can help you identify areas of concern before they become failure points. Counterbalanced systems can be very complex – there’s lots to check and the checks should be taken seriously.

Inspections should be performed annually, at least (and may be required by some insurance policies). They should be carried out by trained and qualified personnel. This can be members of the tech team if they’ve had appropriate training – a house of worship can save money in the long run by taking advantage of available training courses for staff. Professionals should be called in if an in-house inspection reveals areas of concern to be addressed and should still be called in for inspections every 3–5 years. For reasons of not only safety but potential liability, lighting rigging safety is not the place to skimp in a HOW’s budget.

Safety cables, like this ikan model, protect worshippers from danger should a lighting fixture mount fail
Safety cables, like this ikan model, protect worshippers from danger should a lighting fixture mount fail

While checking out the system, a house of worship should also review its lighting plan and take advantage of the opportunity to reposition any lighting fixtures that could be better employed. Also, while fixtures are being accessed for rigging maintenance, lamp replacement can be conveniently undertaken on a preventative maintenance schedule or to replace lamps that are nearly past or beyond the point of acceptable performance.

While cleanliness will be appreciated by anyone having to mount or move fixtures, the performance of fixed rigging itself is unlikely to be significantly affected by dust or dirt, though in a humid environment grime can promote corrosion. Cleanliness can affect the performance of elements of a moving system and of the lighting fixtures themselves. The usual precautions apply: no cleaning liquids around powered electrical and electronic systems at all; and no liquids that will penetrate lighting, motor or control housings even when systems are powered down. Vacuums and clean cloth rags are the best options. Vacuum hoses can be fitted with a brush attachment or used in combination with a dry, clean paint brush to dislodge dust and dirt. Cleaning cloths can be used dry or, when systems are powered off, lightly dampened with water (or with pure alcohol serving as a gentle, residue-free solvent where external grime and dirt are heavy).

Staff safety during lighting rig inspections and maintenance is also critical, especially when having to use ladders or lifts to access grids or other fixed install elements. Again, if you feel your tech staff cannot handle the tasks safely and thoroughly, call in a professional. Safety first – do not neglect protecting the safety of worshippers.

This article first appeared in the September-October 2019 edition of Worship AVL. Subscribe at www.proavl-central.com/subscribe/worship.



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