Updates from the Committee on Workplace Safety

Assemblyman Lancman's Labor Press Monthly Column - January 2011
January 10, 2011

Keep Spidey Safe!

The Broadway production “Spider Man: Turn off the Dark” is gaining a lot of attention for its incredibly elaborate choreography. The musical is a novelty for Broadway, with director Julie Taymor managing thirty-five aerial stunts in each performance. Thrilling though it may be, “Spider Man” is currently facing the consequences of its risk-taking. In the three months since “Spider Man” began previews at the Foxwoods Theater on 42nd Street, four actors have been injured performing stunts, including, most recently, Christopher Tierney, who fell from a height sustaining broken ribs and internal bleeding.

In an ongoing inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the New York State Department of Labor (DoL) it became clear that even though the production was not in violation of labor laws, these injuries could have been prevented had additional safety measures been implemented. On December 23rd, the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety, along with Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who represents New York City's theater district, met with the “Spider Man” production team to propose immediate safety modifications to be adopted in order for the show to safely go on.

The discussion gave voice to the workers’ safety concerns. The full list of suggested modifications to the performance from Actors’ Equity, representing the production’s cast members, was presented to the production company. Recommendations brought forth on behalf of the theater employees included sufficient stunt rehearsal and preparation for understudies, reassurance that safety controls are in place by more than one person checking each safety line before the stage manager may authorize a stunt, modifications made to the dangerous final sequence called “The Net,” and full compliance with all DoL and OSHA recommendations. Most of the recommendations were accepted and implemented immediately.

After the meeting, Assembly Members Lancman and Gottfried joined Senator Eric Adams and representatives from Actors’ Equity to host a press conference outside the theater to explain the changes being made in the show. In its examination, the Subcommittee found that the New York state labor laws related to aerial stunts are out of date and have not seen any major updates since 1953. The Subcommittee is planning to review all relevant standards and propose amendments to current laws to prevent future theater workplace injuries from occurring.