Demand for hoists is healthy within the entertainment industry – as is the regard for safety within the sector. Sally Spencer reports
It was a brisk start to the year for hoist manufacturers and distributors supplying into the entertainment sector.
At Hoist UK, for example, Paul Jordan reported a pick up in business after the customary festive season slow down. The company has seen good levels of business across both its industrial and entertainment operations over the last 12 months and has taken on more staff to cater for demand. It’s also relocating later this year and will double the size of its premises.
The entertainment sector in particular seems to have been recession proof and for those companies operating globally, while one economy is in the doldrums, another may be buoyant.
“We had contracts in China and in India and that helped us during the recession in the UK,” said Jordan.
Major events, particularly sporting ones, also went ahead, providing lucrative business – Hoist UK, for example, supplied equipment for the London Olympics. This year it is set to supply another significant sporting event although it’s too soon in the contract to name names.
Fixed installations within theatres and arenas have provided the “larger monetary value” contracts over the last year, however, and the company is nearing completion on a project to provide London’s National Theatre with crane systems and hoists for its NT Futures programme.
“For this we’ve been dealing with the theatre’s requirements for entertainment hoists and aluminium trussing for above stage and rear/side stage mounting locations, as well as providing more industrial style cranes and hoisting systems for the back stage area for the theatre’s in-house carpentry, paint, metalwork and assembly facilities,” said Jordan.
Hoist UK distributes the Stagemaker chain hoist products from Verlinde and says demand for the new SR series hoist has been growing throughout the year. “The unit has been very well received by customers and meets all the relevant British and European standards as well as having all the properties a user requires with regard to weight, sound level, safety, design and flexibility – and it’s great value for money,” said Jordan.
Mantracourt, designer and manufacturer of BroadWeigh, a wireless load monitoring system for the entertainment sector, has also seen healthy demand.
“We experienced significant growth in the UK and Europe in 2014,” said Kelly Voysey, marketing manager. “Our UK distributor AC Entertainment, who supplies the sector with all kinds of rigging equipment, reports that demand has been broad from basic manual chain hoists through to advanced automated control systems. And the same can be said by our German distributor HOF Alutec.”
Mantracourt is witnessing increasing demand for its smaller 3.25 tonne shackle, especially from the US and Europe, said Voysey, adding that all sectors of the entertainment market, from touring companies, to arenas, exhibition centres, theatres and hotels were providing regular business. The company has also seen growth in the rental market.
In terms of satisfying the evolving needs of the customer base, Paul Jordan said that the push from the market place had always been for high quality, fit for purpose and “economical” products that meet both British and/or European standards and said that during the last couple of years demand had grown for Hoist UK’s own brand of winches and equipment.
“The requirement to custom build [systems] specifically for a set application has grown,” said Jordan. “Years ago you used to go to a concert and see a musician standing on stage playing an instrument; now you expect to see a show, with pyrotechnics, video walls, flying effects and so on. There’s a big push from production companies and performers trying to do more spectacular things and so the level of equipment we have to provide needs to be higher, fit for purpose and safe.”
This increased level of demand for bespoke products led to Hoist UK’s sister company, Truss UK, acquiring a 100% shareholding in AJB Precision Fabrication, which was a subcontractor to both companies.
“We can now provide custom designed and custom built products through that link,” said Jordan. “So along with providing the hoists, which we would buy in as normal, we can provide the other pieces of the jigsaw, including the structures. It’s a one-stop-shop.”
The demand for more spectacular sets at entertainment venues brings health and safety into sharp focus.
“Due to the type of lifting in the entertainment sector, with 90% of the lifting and suspending of loads over people, regulations, standards and codes of practice play a major part in what we do and how we do it,” said Matt Millward, rigging manager of Mantracourt distributor, AC Entertainment.
Having said that, as both Jordan and John Williams, operations manager at the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) point out, the basic legal requirements for the entertainment sector are no different to those in other industries.
“If you pick up a load, whether it’s in a factory or an entertainment venue you can’t drop it,” said Jordan. “But we risk assess the application and mitigate those risks and that includes in the design of the unit for its intended use.
“We operate with higher levels of redundancy or increased level safety systems within the equipment when dealing with applications that would not be done in a normal industrial setting, such as moving and statically suspending loads above people’s heads and flying people or objects around within a controlled environment – but in essence it’s the same.”
The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) legislative framework within which the industry works has raised safety standards without placing an unnecessary or onerous burden on employers, said Williams.
“Above all else it adopts a flexible, risk-based approach that correctly places the emphasis on the ‘human factor’ but is not unduly prescriptive. For example, LOLER demands that lifting operations are properly planned, supervised and performed by competent people – but leaves it to the employer to determine precisely how this is done.”
He added that the relative success of LOLER is reflected in the fact that it has been left unchanged by the UK Coalition Government’s wide-ranging review of health and safety legislation.
“LOLER is also increasingly being adopted as best practice by employers working outside the UK, particularly in countries that lack sector-specific legislation,” said Williams.
Jordan sees adherence to the legislation as a joint responsibility between the supplier and the customer. The onus is on the supplier to provide equipment that’s fit for purpose, while the owner and user must risk assess his own operations and ensure the kit is inspected and serviced on a regular basis.
The frequent challenge here, quite simply, is for employers in the entertainment sector to keep track of all the equipment that falls under the remit of LOLER.
“Crucially, LOLER defines lifting equipment as ‘work equipment for lifting and lowering loads and includes its attachments used for anchoring, fixing or supporting it’,” said Williams.
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