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Even Opera Sopranos Need Fall Protection

For those of you who don’t follow opera, Bellini’s “Norma” is considered by many to contain the Mount Everest of soprano roles, one that only a few divas — Maria Callas, for example — have truly mastered. 

Last Saturday afternoon I was fortunate to witness one of those rare performances where the soprano was able to climb the mountain. Early in the first act, the American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky — who played the druid priestess Norma — wowed the audience as she sang the beautiful aria “Casta Diva” while standing on a tree stump in the middle of a forest on the stage at Lincoln Center in New York City. The audience was ecstatic and she received a long thunderous applause with many fans shouting “Brava!” 

While I too was moved, I couldn’t help turning to my partner and whispering, “I hope there isn’t an OSHA inspector in this audience, because this looks like a clear violation of the fall protection standard.” As she sang her sublime aria, Radvanovsky was standing on a tree stump that was more than four feet high with what appeared to be no fall protection.

The Metropolitan Opera is not alone here. Any lawyer who practices OSHA law will tell you that fall protection is the standard most often cited by OSHA inspectors. While many companies do a pretty fair job of maintaining appropriate railings on regularly traveled walkways, they often forget about fall protection when employees are unloading trailer beds or doing maintenance in less heavily traversed areas. Companies also forget that OSHA requires employers to provide training on fall hazards.

So here is a simple reminder for everyone, from the humble machine operator to Montserrat Caballé, please remember: OSHA requires fall protection. For the Met, and all other employers covered by OSHA that don’t have industry-specific rules, the requirement begins at a height of four feet. In construction, fall protection is required above six feet. Protection must also be provided any time an employee must work above hazardous equipment or machinery, regardless of the distance. While there may be “no business like show business,” employers of all industries — including the performing arts — should remember that, more likely than not, OSHA’s fall protection regulations apply to your workforce.

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.