News Column

Circus Comes to Hartford, With Renewed Spotlight On Safety

May 7, 2014

By Denise Buffa, The Hartford Courant

May 07--The circus came to Hartford Tuesday, direct from a near-tragedy in Rhode Island, where a group of acrobats were injured in a dramatic fall.

Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials were meeting Tuesday with circus management. A leader of the union representing stage workers helping to set up the circus said they'd stepped up safety precautions for the Hartford run, which is Thursday through Sunday.

The circus said the high-profile Rhode Island accident is having no effect on Hartford ticket sales.

Tom Gill of Newington came out of the XL Center Tuesday afternoon saying he had just purchased five tickets, some for his girlfriend's grandchildren.

"The only question I would have is 'Are they are going to let it go on?' " he said.

The show would go on, according to Sabrina Cullen, a spokeswoman for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, and producer Feld Entertainment. But the act that failed in Providence would not be performed in Hartford, and would not be replaced with any other act, Cullen said.

"Obviously, they're still working on taking that act out and making it still 'The Greatest Show on Earth,' " she said.

Eight acrobats were injured Sunday during the show, called "LEGENDS," at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence after an aerial apparatus collapsed, sending the performers plummeting at least 25 feet to the ground. They were part of a hair-hanging act in which they swung from their tresses in midair, resembling a human chandelier. A worker on the ground was also injured.

Four acrobats were in serious condition and three were in good condition Tuesday at Rhode Island Hospital, according to Feld. An eighth was released Tuesday, and the ninth was released earlier this week.

The cause of the accident was still under investigation.

A carabiner in the rigging failed, but it was unclear why, Feld said. Each piece of the equipment used in the act is inspected when initially rigged, and visually re-inspected before each performance, according to Feld.

The rig and truss were re-inspected Monday night when the show was being dismantled, Feld said. All carabiners in the unit were being replaced as a precaution, according to Feld.

"The carabiner used in the hair hang act has a load rating in excess of 10,000 pounds," Feld said in a written statement. "The act, including the performers and equipment, weighs less than 1500 pounds."

Bill Philbin, business representative for Local 84 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees said "it was a shock" to see the accident in Providence because a lot of safety precautions are in place, and his workers follow them.

Those in the entertainment industry usually follow a "10 times safety factor," to protect people and equipment, Philbin said. He said it's not a law or regulation, but protocol.

"So, if you're handling 500 pounds of equipment, you got cable and stuff that hold 5,000 pounds, that kind of thing," he said.

The union had 28 workers -- including forklift operators, general stage hands and riggers -- at the XL Center helping the circus set up Tuesday, according to Philbin.

"I'm sure they're going to be even more sensitive to this issue," he said.

But he noted that the circus workers are responsible for setting up the acrobatic acts.

Officials from the federal OSHA were meeting Tuesday with circus managers to discuss aerial acts and fall protection, according to regional OSHA spokesman Andre Bowser. He said he could not provide more specifics because the consultation was ongoing.

OSHA is investigating the Providence incident. If any violations are found, citations and fines may be imposed.


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Source: Hartford Courant (CT)

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