Introduction to Safe Training at Home
This document is part one of a series aimed at people who aren’t professional riggers but want to install equipment at home. There will be separate documents for riggers, and for structural or building engineers. This series includes:
- Introduction to Safe Home Training (this document)
- Setting Up a Safe Rigging Point at Home
- Equipment Specific Rigging Advice
This document is designed to help you decide whether to set up an aerial training space in your home, and to offer guidance on how to begin the process. It covers the major points you need to know to ensure that your training space will be safe to use. Aerial acrobatics is an amazing art form which requires plenty of practice so home training has many great benefits and is a lot of fun to do. However, it can also be dangerous and can cause permanent damage to both people and property if the subjects in this document aren’t taken into account.
We have divided this guide into three parts:
- Training space safety assessment
- Liability and legality
- Operating safely
Training Space Safety Assessment
People have a multitude of good reasons to want to create a safe training space at home – it’s a great idea and it’s entirely possible, as long as the various safety challenges are addressed. The way we do this in the rigging industry is to create a risk assessment.
This may sound like an officious name for a very simple task but it’s much more than that. When it’s done properly, it should identify and overcome anything that might result in someone getting hurt, or serious damage being done to the building.
Objective risk assessment is a really practical skill which is used in many different walks of life. In our case, the process involves looking at:
- who will be training
- who will be responsible for safety
- what type of training will happen
- what the potential training environment is like
Who is training?
So let’s take the first of those points: who will be training? It may be you, and you may be a professional artist or an enthusiastic beginner. Or it may be your child or partner. Whoever it is, you need to understand what level of expertise you/they have, and if you/they are ready to train without an experienced teacher there to help. It’s important to look at this objectively, because the harsh reality is that if the person training is a beginner without an experienced teacher to hand, this whole venture would be inadvisable.
At most other levels, it’s possible to set something up, with appropriate provisions in place.
Many circus schools or studios have in place safety policies which open up access to training outwith the class structure. Once a student is ready to train in an open practice situation, their teacher will sign them off to do so. The rules usually restrict practice to moves they have already learned, and prevent students from teaching each other. These are all sensible precautions that apply in home training too.
Situations where students are experimenting with new moves that they are copying from YouTube with no rescue plan or first aider in attendance is a worst-case scenario.
So if your teacher (or your child’s teacher) agrees that training without them being present is ok, you can start to get excited about how you’re going to convert the living room, garden, garage or other space into your own aerial heaven.
Who is supervising?
The next point to look at is adequate supervision. In professional training situations we don’t train alone and we make sure we have a plan for what to do when it goes wrong. The same should apply in domestic settings.
It’s important to define who will be supervising the training and managing any emergencies. Incidents in circus schools are rare largely because coaches have a wealth of experience in teaching in ways to prevent accidents. If an accident does occur, staff are well trained in emergency incident handling. People don’t train alone.
Supervision can prevent accidents. For example, your equipment set-up at home is likely to have greater limitations than equipment at a school or studio. It may be that your rigging points are set up to safely allow a single person to perform basic low impact moves. Ensuring that three people don’t decide to hang from a rigging point designed for one is one way of working within those limitations.
Even experienced artists can fall, so it makes sense that someone else should be present when you’re practising.
Do you have enough space?
The limitations of your training space will define the types of moves that can be performed. If the height is very low, you have less chance of generating a high shock force on the equipment, which is good for your rigging requirements, but then you have a higher chance of sustaining head and neck injuries[KC1] as techniques are being performed in more limited space.
Would you have enough clearance around the equipment that you’d like to install to be sure that you wouldn’t crash into something during a move, or if you fell? We’re talking about walls, doors, TVs, lamps and suchlike. Is there space for the correct type of crash mat for the moves you want to practice? Can it be stored safely when it’s not in use – consider things such as whether it will be a fire risk if it blocks an exit, and if it will deteriorate if it’s left in a sunny position near a window, or if it’s outdoors.
Is your building strong enough?
This is where it gets technical, and there’s no getting round that fact. Whether you are a serious DIYer or you’re getting someone else to do the work, you’ll need expert input from someone to calculate the forces you are likely to generate (probably a rigger), and a structural or building engineer to tell you if your intended rigging point will cope with those loads. Skipping these steps could result in you falling and injuring yourself, or even the people in the room above falling on top of you. It’s not worth the risk.
Fortunately, there are plenty of these experts around to advise you and the cost should not be prohibitive – certainly a lot less than if something goes wrong. If you have any trouble finding someone, get in touch with us and we may be able to pass on a contact.
You might be lucky and have a beam that the engineer declares can easily take the loads that the rigger has calculated you need. Aerial arts can generate much greater forces than you might imagine even with relatively gentle movements, but even if your current building set-up isn’t strong enough, it’s usually possible to reinforce it, and your engineer will advise how to install the point to rig from. An installer can implement the advice and issue a completion report/certificate.
We’ll discuss the details of this in the next document “Setting Up a Safe Rigging Point at Home”.
If the building work looks like it’s too much hassle and you have a suitable indoor or outdoor space, you can always consider an aerial rig.[KC2]
It’s important to understand the loads you are generating and to stay within the limitations of your rigging, so before you get your experts in, think ahead to what you might do rather than what you’re currently doing. Ask your teacher for advice.
Liability and legality
In today’s world we need to be very aware of liability and also to make sure we stay on the right side of the law. Let’s look at some of the subjects you will need to check into before you start creating your own training space at home.
Home and buildings insurance
Does your house insurance cover aerial training at home? Circus training may not be covered by your building insurance, in which case damage to your property would not be covered. Poor choices in rigging may affect the structural integrity of your house so make sure you are confident that the rigging is good and you are covered by an insurance policy.
If you are renting your property then you will need the owner’s permission for the same reason.
If you only have to consider liability regarding you or your family this is pretty simple to understand. However, what happens if a visitor gets hurt? Who is liable for failed rigging or injuries? To mitigate risks in this area, insurance, safe rigging and safe operating practices will be necessary.
Teaching from home
If you are intending to teach from home this has even more implications and will definitely need a separate insurance policy. Depending on where you live you may need permission from your:
- mortgage provider or landlord
- local planning office - eg if you’re planning on making major alterations to your home
- local council - eg if you’re going to get lots of customers or deliveries, if you want to advertise outside your home or if you need a licence to run your business
- local council - you may also have to pay business rates on the part of your property that you use for teaching
There are some good UK-based references here: https://www.gov.uk/run-business-from-home
Professional training spaces will typically create a pile of documentation for their local councils and insurance companies. This will include Risk Assessments, Normal Operating Procedures documents and Emergency Action Plans.
These should be seen as a good thing and are designed to allow you to think through how you can safely operate to reduce incidents and also to have a well thought-out plan so that people are trained in what to do if things go wrong. A first aid course is a good start.
It is very worthwhile going through the process of creating documents like this even if you’re the only one using the equipment. It will make it less likely that anything will go wrong, and more likely that you are well prepared if something untoward does happen. If you’re rigging for your children, it’s worth agreeing all the rules around them using the equipment before you agree to install it.
You should regularly inspect all of your equipment and its rigging; you need to know what to inspect and how to inspect it. Fortunately, reputable equipment manufacturers provide inspection criteria for their equipment.
As a user, parent or manager of the equipment you’ll need to give it a visual check before every use and a more thorough inspection perhaps twice a year or as dictated by frequency of use.
The person doing the inspection must be competent [KC3] to inspect aerial acrobatic equipment. In that they have the required training, knowledge and experience to perform the task.
In a workplace/work setting, it's a legal requirement to have regular inspections by a competent person. Though it is not a legal requirement for you to record the inspection date and what was checked by whom, it is a good idea. It’s amazing how time flies when you’re enjoying yourself, and a year can pass without inspections if you don’t have a note of when they’ve been done. Further information can be found in the Approved Code of Practice for the PUWER Regulations 1998.
If the equipment actually lifts a person at work (rather than the person climbing the equipment) it may be necessary to have the equipment thoroughly examined by a person competent to inspect aerial acrobatic equipment and to keep a record of that thorough examination in accordance with Regulations 5 and 9 -11 of the LOLER Regulations 1998.
Safe storage is important to ensure your equipment and crash mats will not be subjected to too much water or sun or unnecessary wear and tear.
Workplace/work setting = where equipment is provided for use by others or an employer.
Our priority should be to keep everyone safe so we can have fun and progress our training outside class. We need a level of knowledge to do this and an investment of time and money. This document should help you to weigh up the pros and cons.