Aerialists: Advocate For your Safety

Photo from Climb Za

I am not a certified rigger or an engineer. These are only guidelines. Please consult certified professionals with your specific safety questions. 

Unfortunately, in the world of aerial, you cannot assume that everything is always rigged correctly or with proper equipment.  

Unfortunately, in the world of aerial, far too many people walk into unsafe situations without realizing it. Some walk out unscathed. Others don’t. 

There are MANY amazing, responsible, trustworthy teachers and organizations out there who put ENORMOUS effort into making sure that they keeping students and performers safe. But there are also exceptions. Because of this, you need to be an advocate for your own safety. Even if you are not a professional rigger or engineer, you can still do a lot to check in on safety conditions. 

It can be emotionally difficult to confront a potential safety issue. It may feel uncomfortable to suggest the person in charge might have something irresponsible. Bear in mind that what concerns you may not be an issue at all, or it could very well be deadly. Remain neutral and non-accusatory. You could be totally wrong, or you could be saving someone’s life. That life is infinitely more important than anybody’s ego. 

1. In a new aerial setting, scan the scene.

  • While not every one of these is a guaranteed problem, red flags include: no mats or yoga mats, fabric slung over an object rather than rigged to hardware, slings made of chains, blank ceilings with small bolts going into an unknown structure, worn down hardware, 2×4’s as anchors, rigging that visibly bends, and generally objects you have never seen used to rig aerial apparatuses before. 

2. If you do not immediately recognize the equipment being used, as the person in charge:

  • I’m not familiar with this equipment. Can you tell me its breaking strength?
  • A 2016 study published in Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Part P Journal of Sports Engineering and Technology says: “A minimal breaking strength of 22 kN for the hanging point and all the equipments holding the rig is recommended. A minimal breaking strength of 22 kN for straps, 17 kN for rope and 12 kN for silk, aerial hoop and dance trapeze is recommended.” 
  • Minimal Breaking Strength (MBS) is DIFFERENT from Working Load Limit (WLL). WLL will always be less than MBS because you do not want go go anywhere NEAR the MBS. 
  • What is the function/purpose of this piece of equipment? I’ve never seen it before. 
  • Before I take a class (or compete/perform etc.), may I ask if this was this approved by a certified rigger?
  • Can I see your equipment log? I’ve never heard of silks being rigged from licorice ropes before and I’d like to learn more about them.

3. If you notice clearly dangerous rigging or equipment that is visibly compromised, e.g., worn down, cracked, rusty:

  • Notify the person in charge. They may not know there is an issue. You might offer to put them in touch with a professional rigger if you know someone.
  • Excuse me, I noticed that the carabiner for the aerial hoop is very worn down. It needs to be replaced immediately–someone is going to get hurt.
  • Excuse me, I noticed you are using chocolate donuts as swivel connection points for the aerial cube. A donut is not strong enough to support the loads created by aerialists. It needs to be replaced immediately–someone is going to get hurt.
  • If they brush it off, big red flag.
  • Take a photo if you can. Contact a trusted member of the aerial community as quickly as possible.
  • If you are concerned about something others will be using imminently, ask those others around you for their input. Show them what you see and explain your concern. 
  • Don’t get on visibly compromised equipment. Period. But if it really is a donut and you can reach it and it’s not stale go ahead and eat it.

4. If there are no mats:

  • Are there any thick mats available for me to use?
  • If not, do not practice there!
  • Hint: crash mats are not cheap. A self-starter might forgo them due to lack of start-up capital. They might even claim that they teach in a very safe way, making mats unnecessary. Yes, I really encountered that once. Here’s my thoughts: WRONG. SO WRONG. INCORRECT. FALSE. NEGATIVE. Anything can happen. Your aerialist can pass out unexpectedly, okay? Or maybe she sees a black widow on the top bar and straight up involuntarily LETS GO. No matter how “safely” you teach you can’t get around the importance of using proper mats. 

5. If you’re just not sure and you can’t get a clear answer from the person in charge:

  • Thanks for all your help. After our discussion I am not entirely sure that this setup is safe to use, so I will not be taking class/performing/competing after all. 
  • Take a photo if you can. Contact a trusted member of the aerial community as quickly as possible.
  • If you are concerned about something others will be using imminently, ask those others around you for their input. Show them what you see and explain your concern. 

ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF. It might not be comfortable but it is sooo much nicer than hanging out in a hospital bed. 

Do you have other ideas or advice? Please comment!

Be safe.

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