Information to assist people who run theatres in controlling the risks to those working in the theatre or attending productions.

What you should know:

  • Health and safety law applies to theatres as it does to other businesses. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and related legislation places duties on employers, employees, the self-employed and those in control of premises.
  • The majority of injuries in the theatre industry are related to work at height and manual handling.

What you must do:

Work at height

There is a legal hierarchy for selecting equipment for work at height, based on using the safest possible method of work that can reasonably and practicably be used in the circumstances:

  • do not work at height – use auto focus or bounce focus lights, bring scenery items down to ground level for adjustment etc
  • work from an existing place of work – use gantries, bridges or catwalks, a trampoline system etc
  • work positioning – use fixed length lines to prevent falls, MEWPs etc
  • fall mitigation – use airbags, nets, inertia reel harnesses (which require a rescue plan)
  • systems of work – use ladders, Tallescopes, Zarges etc

Further information on working at height can be found in the ABTT Code of Practice for the selection and use of temporary access equipment for working at heights in theatres.

Manual handling

There is a large amount of manual handling involved in theatres, especially for travelling shows. Many loads are awkwardly shaped, heavy and often difficult to move in sometimes very confined spaces. This movement is often also done under time pressure. More than a third of the injuries reported annually to HSE are related to manual handling. These tend to be long-term injuries, which can have serious implications for those involved. Reducing the amount and severity of manual handling is a legal obligation. For more information, see:

Legal duties

There are legal duties on:

  • employers
  • employees
  • the self-employed (freelance)
  • people in charge of premises


Employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees, while not exposing others to health and safety risks. As an employer, you must have systems in place to ensure that the risks presented by the work are assessed and either eliminated or controlled. There are a number of ways this can be done. Further help and information can be found in: Health and safety basics for your business .


Employees can expect their employers to take all reasonably practicable measures to ensure they can work without risk. Employees then have a duty to work carefully and co-operate with their employer to make sure both are complying with their respective legal duties.

Self-employed (freelance)

Self-employed people have duties to ensure they work safely so that their activities do not create risk to themselves or others. Remember, 'self- employed' has a different meaning in health and safety matters to that used in tax matters. Both employers and the self-employed should make sure they know their legal status and obligations under health and safety law. 

Person in charge of premises

Any person who allows people not employed by them to work in premises, such as a theatre, has duties to make sure:

  • the means of getting in and out are safe
  • all plant and equipment within the premises is safe and does not present a risk to health. This includes the electricity / gas and water supplies etc

Is this page useful?

Updated 2022-11-01