As a studio owner, you know the importance of maintaining a safe haven for your staff members and students. But with increasing litigiousness and the bevy of injury risks unique to dance, it’s now more important than ever for a quick safety refresher. Here are some expert-recommended ways to protect yourself—and your business.
1 Prevent slips, trips and falls. According to J. Terrence Grisim, president of Safety Management Consultants in Elmhurst, Illinois, one of the biggest issues for any business is what he calls “slips, trips and falls.” Loose threads in carpeting, slippery throw rugs, slick spots, broken tiles and ripples can cause these accidents. Keep all floors throughout your facility in good repair and clean up spills right away. It’s also important to minimize clutter, which presents a fire and tripping hazard. “You can’t have too much storage,” says Sheryl Dowling, owner of The Dance Club in Orem, Utah, whose architect included several spacious closets in the building design. Store costumes, props, sets, supplies and boxes away from hallways and studios. If you don’t have enough space, rent a storage unit.
2 Be mindful of hanging objects and lighting. Grisim cautions against hanging mirrors within view of stairs or steps, as the reflection can be disorienting. Also, when hanging mirrors or framed artwork along walls, be careful that you don’t place them where they can be easily knocked down and shattered. Place lighting fixtures in areas that aren’t well lit, and use window treatments to control natural lighting. Regularly inspect wall-mounted and portable barres, and replace them immediately if they are splintered, rickety or broken.
3 Keep traffic and student wandering under control. Most studios have two types of traffic: pedestrian and automotive. “You can have serious traffic issues with kids entering and exiting the building,” says Dowling. When she moved into her 13,000-square-foot facility last year, she created a pick-up/drop-off zone to keep kids from dodging between cars in the parking lot. It’s also important that no one park in the zone and that students wait for their ride to pull up to the curb before stepping off the sidewalk. In addition to the large front viewing window at her studio, Dowling installed security cameras that feed into the main office to keep a better watch on students as they come and go. And to keep students nearby between classes, she offers comfortable spaces where they can hang out, eat and do homework, including a snack bar (called The Ballet Bar) that sells nutritious food and has an outdoor patio with tables and umbrellas.
4 Provide a sanitary space. This may be common sense, but don’t forget to clean barres, floors and rest rooms daily to minimize the spread of germs. If you have a sanitation or janitorial service, remind staff to wipe down those surfaces and restock soap, toilet paper, toilet seat covers and tissues each day. David Bell, associate dean of The Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut, which just opened a new 55,000-square-foot performing-arts complex, recommends installing hand sanitizer dispensers in each studio so students can cleanse before, after and sometimes during class.
5 Instill an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). Create and post an EAP that features evacuation procedures, including where to gather in the event of an emergency and how to account for everyone. Call your local fire department for help with forming an EAP, and test your plan once a year. (Depending on your city’s building codes, you may need to install sprinklers like Dowling.) “Have fun with it, too,” says Pamela Ferrante, president of JC Safety & Environmental in Pittsburgh. “Block an exit so teachers have to think about what they would do in that situation.” (Remember there are other reasons to evacuate besides fire, like explosions, gas leaks and natural disasters.)
Also, make sure exit signs are clearly marked and that you have a well-stocked first-aid kit, two fire extinguishers and working fire alarms. And consider certifying staff in CPR and first-aid, says Margaret Tracey, associate director of Boston Ballet School. The American Red Cross will come to your studio to give a class, or you can attend their classes.
6 Consult a safety specialist. A safety specialist will inspect your premises and make recommendations on how to make them more secure. Many insurance companies provide this service for free. If yours does not, inquire with your state’s worker safety department. Some states offer free services, information and advice. If you decide to hire a private consultant, ask a few companies for proposals before committing to anything. “Certified Safety Professional” is a reliable designation for a safety consultant.
7 Educate your students. “The most challenging component of having a safe environment is educating the people who are there,” says Bell. Remind dancers to speak up about slick spots on floors, as well as any potentially dangerous problems they see. Tracey adds, “Teaching discipline in respecting your space is part of the education.” DT
- American Red Cross: www.redcross.org
- American Society of Safety Engineers: www.assedirectory.com/searchconsul.asp
- National Fire Protection Agency: www.nfpa.org
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration: www.osha.gov
Kristin Lewis is a freelance writer in New York City.
Photos by: Robert Benson Photography, courtesy of The Hartt School; courtesy of The Dance Club