The performing arts, including theater, dance and music, can present unique hazards that are often overlooked. Below are some common hazards and ways to mitigate these.
For informatin on safety in shops and operation of tools, please visit the EH&S Shop Safety Program page (https://ehs.umass.edu/shop-safety-program).
Set construction and some performances may involve exposure to fall hazards from a variety of processes and procedures. Fall hazards are present when working on ladders, around the paint frame, on the catwalks, outside of the catwalks, in elevated storage areas of the shops, and on unprotected elevated work platforms such as the open edge of the stage. Personnel are required to be protected from falls greater than 4’ to a lower level by appropriate means.
Select the correct ladder for the task being performed. Ensure that the ladder is tall enough to avoid overreaching and do not use a ladder ways other than it was designed for (e.g. use of a step ladder as an extension ladder, use of two ladders to support planking) Inspect portable ladders regularly, and maintain them in good condition, free from oil, grease, or other slippery materials. Remove defective ladders from service and report the defect to your supervisor. Place ladders on stable bases. Never use boxes, chairs, or other unstable surfaces in place of a ladder.
If personnel are exposed to a fall of greater than 4’ please contact EH&S for consultation. 413-545-2682
Electrical shock happens when a part of your body completes a circuit between conductors or a grounding source. The effects of electrical shock range from a tingle to death, depending on the amount of current flow and the path of the current through your body. To prevent electrical shock, follow safe electrical work practices including lockout/tagout, use of GFCI outlets, and properly maintaining hand tools.
Lockout/tagout (LOTO; https://ehs.umass.edu/hazardous-energy-control-policy-lock-outtag-out) is a method of preventing the release of hazardous energy. Failure to properly isolate and de-energize energy sources can be fatal. Although the application of LOTO is often limited to electrical energy, you should understand that other hazardous energy sources, including mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, and thermal energies, require similar procedures and care to ensure your safety. Other energy is often stored energy, such as in electrical batteries, capacitors, and springs. Even gravity presents a form of energy.
Please consult the EH&S Shop Safety Program (https://ehs.umass.edu/shop-safety-program) for more safety information.
Dancers and musicians push their bodies in unique ways. For instance, dancers and musicians can overuse muscles leading to strained tendons and permanent nerve damage, while vocalists can permanently damage their vocal chords if they overuse and push their voices too hard.
Injury risk contributors include:
- Improper Technique
- Ex: Singing without abdominal support.
- Ex: Bending the knee too far inward or outward in a plié.
- Improper Posture
- Awkward postures – Non-neutral positions that put our bodies at a mechanical disadvantage while we work.
- Static postures – Maintaining the same posture for extended periods of time.
- Chronic Tension
- Forceful exertion – Using a high level of physical effort to perform a task.
- Static exertion – Holding the same posture for extended periods while applying force.
- Compression or contact stress – Pressure between hard or sharp objects and the soft tissues of the body.
- Shouting, screaming, and otherwise strenuous vocal use.
- Repetitive Motion – The same or similar movement is performed frequently
- Building or Room Conditions
- Lighting – Inadequate lighting, flickering lights, or significant glare contributes to eye strain.
- Cold Temperatures – Decreases the flexibility of our muscles as well as our touch sensitivity as we work.
The most common injuries among musicians result from repetitive movements and overuse. If you play your instrument several hours a week for years, it is possible that the delicate ligaments, tendons, joints, and muscles used will experience wear and tear, ultimately leading to pain or discomfort. Common overuse injuries include:
- Occurring most commonly in the hand, elbow, and shoulder, tendonitis is the inflammation of tendons and is commonly caused by repetitive motions or improper posture or position while playing.
- The best way to avoid tendonitis is to be mindful of the stress placed on your tendons and to rest when you become tired or notice pain. Improving your technique and mixing up your positions, if possible, are also helpful methods.
- Most common in the Achilles tendon, wrists, elbows, knees and shoulders, tendonosis is a chronic condition involving the deterioration of collagen (a structural protein) in the tendons. Tendonosis is caused by chronic overuse of a tendon, and often results from untreated tendonitis. Tendonosis is more serious than tendonitis, and is a long-term condition that requires special treatment.
- Preventing tendonosis is the best defense against it. Practice strength training and stretching regularly. Be mindful of pain or discomfort, especially if it is chronic. Get any acute tendonitis treated immediately. Improve techniques, posture, get ergonomic equipment modifications if possible, and seek physical therapy for any lasting discomfort.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Caused by pressure on the median nerves that run through the wrist, carpal tunnel syndrome is usually associated with numbness, tingling, weakness or an electric shock-like feeling in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers.
- Relaxing your hands as much as possible while playing, as well as during everyday movements, can help to avoid this condition. Also recommended is taking frequent breaks to rest and stretch your hands, fingers and wrists, extending and rotating them in circles.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
- Characterized by tingling and numbness of the fingers, pain in the forearm, and weakness in the hand, this condition occurs due to pressure or stretching of the ulnar nerve (or “funny bone”), which runs along the inner elbow.
- Avoiding frequent bending or leaning on the elbow for extended periods of time and keeping the arm straight while at rest can help to prevent Cubital Tunnel Syndrome.
- This condition, caused by irritation of the bursae (small, fluid-filled sacs) that cushion the bones, muscles and tendons near the joints, most commonly occurs in the shoulder and elbow.
- Because Bursitis is caused by strenuous activity, warming up and cooling down before and after use of the affected body part can be an effective method of prevention. Rest and avoiding use while in pain are also important.
- This condition, most commonly caused by chronic overuse of the wrist, is characterized by swelling near the base of the thumb, numbness of the thumb and index finger, and a “catching” feeling when moving the thumb.
- The best ways to prevent this condition are taking frequent breaks from playing when using the wrist and supporting your wrist by using a brace or splint when possible.
Performers can reduce ergonomic risk factors by:
- Always practicing correct techniques or form (i.e., relaxed wrists).
- In dance, many techniques were developed to fit artistic needs, rather than health needs. If a particular movement or position is painful for your body, do not force it. Not all movements are attainable for all bodies, and that is ok.
- Maintaining comfortable, neutral body postures during daily practices, rehearsals, and throughout the day.
- Reducing the frequency of performing the same motions by alternating between tasks to use different muscles, or taking short breaks every 1-2 hours to reduce muscle fatigue.
- Taking breaks and/or routinely changing your posture.
- Avoiding forceful pinching or gripping of an instrument.
- Arranging your workstation to reduce or eliminate awkward postures such as over-reaching, bending, or twisting.
- NEVER “playing through the pain.” Stop when you notice pain.
- Exercising regularly, especially focusing on strengthening the muscles used for performing (i.e., arms, back, and neck muscles for musicians).
If you believe you are developing a performance injury, don’t hesitate to talk with your studio instructor and/or ensemble director. We also urge you to take advantage of resources and services available on campus to help you, such as acupuncture and physical therapy. Please also see our poster that you can use to promote awareness!
For more information on vocal health, please view this information sheet (https://nasm.arts-accredit.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/02/6a_NAS...) provided by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA).
For recommendations for musicians on ergonomic safety, ergonomic equipment alterations, stretches, and more, take a look at this information sheet (http://www.working-well.org/articles/pdf/Musicians.pdf).
As aspiring musicians and artists, certain behaviors and your exposure to certain sounds can, over time, damage your hearing. The way you hear music, the way you recognize and differentiate pitch, the way you play music; all are directly connected to your hearing. Research suggests that 30 to 50 percent of musicians have hearing problems. The majority of noise-induced hearing loss happens gradually and it is 100% preventable.
Activities may affect your hearing including, but not limited to:
- Attending concerts
- Playing musical instruments
- Listening to radio, CD player, MP3 player, etc.
- Using noisy equipment or stay in noisy environments
The UMass Amherst Hearing Conservation Program (https://ehs.umass.edu/hearing-conservation-program) has been established to provide for the protection of University employees from long term hearing loss associated with noise levels in the workplace. Please check the program website for more information. All members of the University community who are regularly exposed to occupational noise levels at or exceeding an 8-hour time-weighted average of 85 dBA must enroll in the Hearing Conservation Program (HCP). Please contact the Hearing Conservation Program Administrator for a noise evaluation if you believe your workspace is exceeding the recommended 8-hour TWA of 85 dBA.
The National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA) have developed a comprehensive set of jointly authored advisory documents on hearing health for musicians. Please refer to this link (https://nasm.arts-accredit.org/publications/brochures-advisories/nasm-pa...) for more information. Please also see the EH&S factsheet on hearing protection for musicians.