Pre-show ‘load-in’ protocols unchanged

Two and a half months after a Yale School of Drama student died while unloading a set for an upcoming show at the Yale Repertory Theatre, a committee convened to review safety procedures in school-sponsored productions is still at work.

Pierre-André Salim DRA ’09 was killed in November when a 1,100-pound stack of large sheets of particle board crushed him during a ‘load-in,’ as he was unpacking set materials from a truck to prepare for the premiere of the Yale Rep’s play “Tartuffe.” Since then, the University has not only created the committee to examine current safety procedures but has also conferred with a forensic engineering consultant, Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said.

The United States Occupational Safety & Health Administration then released a report in December establishing that Salim’s death resulted from improper loading of the materials and insufficient training. It also recommended increased safety training for students involved in productions.

Since Salim was not a Yale employee, OSHA has no enforcement jurisdiction over the accident and Yale is under no obligation to respond to OSHA recommendations. OSHA Area Director Robert Kowalski said in an interview last Tuesday that Yale has not been in touch with his office.

Drama School officials relayed all requests for comment to Klasky.

Although newspaper reports of Salim’s death referred to it as a “freak accident,” Kowalski insisted such incidents can be prevented with proper training.

“We usually see this in the marble and granite industry,” Kowalski explained. “There were [recently] five fatalities in the same circumstance where slabs of granite and marble fell over.”

Kowalski said he suspects Salim was not sufficiently trained and that the truck was improperly loaded.

But Yale Office of Environmental Health & Safety director Peter Reinhardt defended Yale’s safety protocols. The Drama School has had an effective safety training program for years, he said.

“I haven’t seen any other university that has such an extensive theater-safety program,” Reinhardt said.

Even so, a number of departments are investigating the cause of the accident, Reinhardt said.

“We know what happened, but the whys of what happened were never clear,” Reinhardt said. “We will definitely make changes and improvements to the program based on what we learned from this incident.”

Reinhardt said he is sure Salim and the other students studying technical design and production received training at the beginning of the academic year.

But even with training, accidents can occur, said Amanda Jane Haley DRA ’10, who is also enrolled in the technical design and production program. She said the training students receive is “very intense.”

“There is no possible curriculum that could cover everything you need to know to work in technical theater,” she said in an e-mail. “Our professors, who are the best in the world, are still learning new things.”

Jack Hilley DRA ’08, another student in the design program, said his program has a “strenuous focus on safety” and he does not believe the school’s procedures are unsafe. But the Drama School is being very responsive to the tragedy, he said.

“There is not doubt that this new overhaul going through and double-checking is because of what happened in November,” Hilley said.

To increase awareness about safety, Drama School Director of Facilities Operations William Reynolds invites Kowalski to lecture about OSHA standards every April.

This year, Kowalski said, “the accident will be on everyone’s minds.”

Klasky said no lawsuits have been filed against the University by Salim’s family.

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