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Welcome to the Scene Shop

The Toland Theatre scene shop is run by Department of Theatre Arts, at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse. The labor (you) is provided by a mix of students fulfilling requirements for course study in the Theater department and student employees of University Productions. We usually provide support for four productions a year, generally for the Theater Department.

During your time in the shop we hope to introduce you to the tools, procedures and techniques used in scenic construction. Our shop is set up very closely to that of a basic repertory theater which you may encounter in the world outside academia. Therefore your experience will be very similar to being employed in a regional shop and should be of some educational value to you as a student of the theater arts.

In this reading you will find some of the important safety guidelines to be followed that help ensure a continued safe working environment for all.  Theater work, by nature, is physical, and the use of power equipment is more dangerous than general classroom work. However, if you use common sense and follow these safety procedures, working in the shop and on stage will be fun and safe for you and your classmates/fellow workers.

Please feel free to ask questions at any time. We are here to teach you as well as support UW La Crosse productions.  Again, welcome. We hope you enjoy your experience in the shop.


Scene Shop Safety

Proper Attire:

  1. No loose, long or baggy clothing. It can get caught in moving parts and machinery or snagged on splinters etc.
  2. Wear shoes with good, non slippery soles that cover the whole foot; no sandals or dress shoes.
  3. No gloves while using power tools. (Again, these can get caught in moving parts of machines.)
  4. No shorts or skirts (jeans are best).
  5. No long or large jewelry. It can get caught on things and may get ruined.
  6. Wear clothes that will protect you from dust, etc.
  7. You will get dirty and stained. Bring work clothes.(There is a locker room available.)
  8. Long hair must be put up or tied back and put down your shirt. A cap is a good way to keep your hair up also.
  9. Long sleeves are required for welding. You don't want to get burned.

safety picture

General Safety Rules:

The most obvious safety rule is to be careful. Pay attention to what you are doing and do not rush. Repetitious jobs are more likely to cause inattention. Try to avoid monotony and boredom.

Being careful means being careful all the time. You can be careful for years and then get hurt in two seconds of inattention. This is entirely under your own control. Being careful is your best defense against injury.

Avoid danger by using common sense. Some people accept a greater risk of danger in order to work faster, more conveniently, etc. Do not hurry and cut corners on safety. Some people take greater risks because they have a strange notion of invulnerability, or as a show of bravado. This will gain no respect for you in our shop.

Power Tools:

Each power tool has its own set of safety rules. They are safe when properly used, but they can cause serious accidents when misused. You will be trained on each power tool before you use it. In general, power tools have rotating parts that can wind you in like a fishing reel if they catch on clothes, hair, or jewelry. Power tools can throw debris at you, so eye or face protection is necessary. Ear protection from loud noise is also often necessary. Make sure the work surface and floors are clear, and get EVERYTHING ready before you hit the ON switch.

Students may NEVER operate unguarded power tools. Sometimes there is a strong temptation to remove safety guards when they seem to complicate the work. If you think you need to do something without the standard blade guard, stop and ask the staff. In cases where a guard must be removed, a jig will be put in its place to allow for safe operation of the saw and still provide adequate protection to the user.

Pneumatic tools are power tools also. You must learn each one before use. They also have safety guards, with the exception of the smaller stapler. Do not ever defeat the safety or use the tools in a manner they were not made for. (i.e., It is not a target gun!)


Hands are most susceptible to injury. Watch the cutting edge of any tool, especially the power tools, and be aware of where your hands are in relation to it. Pay attention and do not get distracted. There is a dangerous temptation to hold parts together with one hand while shooting pneumatic tools with the other. Sometimes staples and nails turn inside the wood and poke out where you do not expect them. This would seem elementary, but the number of bad cuts from matte knives is incredible. Chisels fall into this category also. The simple rule is to keep both hands behind the direction in which the sharp edge is going and never pull a blade towards your body.


House Keeping (A Clean Shop Is a Safe Shop)

  • Clean up your work area at the end of your work shift.
  • Do not leave tools and supplies out unnecessarily.
  • Do not let your work area become too cluttered; this can lead to trip hazards. Clean as you go.
  • Flatten nails in used lumber.
  • Do not leave long sticks in trash barrels. They can poke others in the eyes.
  • Do not block fire extinguishers, doors, or marked tool-safety areas.
  • Keep pathways to fire exits and for crossing the shop clear. It can be dangerous having to carry large items while walking over lumber and trash.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

The shop will provide you with safety equipment. If you have any questions or doubts, ask the Technical Director or Shop Staff. Your safety is our concern. We will never knowingly put you in a position to be over exposed to hazardous materials. We welcome questions if you have any. We will attempt to explain things to you. Feel free to request safety equipment. We are human; we might forget and it is always better to be safe than sorry. Our goal is to make you safe and comfortable when performing duties in the shop.

  • Dust Masks: Will be provided with the correct type of masks and instructed in their proper use. Comfort masks are available for lab students. These are for use for comfort from saw dust. They will do nothing to protect from fumes and vapors and other assorted toxins. Read the box for instructions on how and when to use these.
  • Ears: We have earmuffs and earplugs for high noise jobs. Usually routers and saber saws will induce you to wear ear protection.
  • Eyes: Eye protection is required at all times in the shop. You may not be using a power tool or a chemical but someone else might be. You can be struck by flying debris and splashing solvents or paints. (Plus they are fashionably correct.)

Health Hazards:

Ventilation is poor in the shop. We are continuously striving to make improvements with our equipment (within our budgets) and creating procedures for safe and alternate methods. Because this is mainly a wood working shop, the use of dust masks may help prevent some dust particles from getting in the nose.  Note: These are not for lung protection from vapors and fumes.

Paint solvents, adhesives, and welding produce toxic fumes. Do not spray paint in the shop. Go outside (and use brown paper to prevent over spray). For contact adhesive, turn on fans for better ventilation. Spray adhesive and spray shoe dye are especially bad.

Welding is done with only the necessary people in the shop. Doors must be opened and the large exhaust fan on. Then a box fan is used near the work to pull the fumes from the work area. If possible, a welding fume respirator should be used. The bright blue glare from arc-welding is an eye hazard. A brief glance will not hurt, but do not stare at it.

Handling Scenery, Lifting and Carrying Heavy Objects:

  • Lift correctly: bend your knees and lift with your legs.
  • Communicate with others.
  • Look where you are going, especially through doors and around corners.
  • Be aware of the back end and what's behind you.
  • When carrying tall objects like a flat or ladder, lift with one hand high and one hand low. That is, lift with one hand which carries the weight and the other hand extended to help balance the object.
  • It is all too common to set heavy platforms or walls down on one's toes. Awareness and communication with fellow co-workers are the only prevention.
  • Machismo will only get you hurt. If you are loosing your grip or if something is too heavy, tell the person you are carrying it with and take a rest and get a better grip, this is much better than dropping it and having someone suddenly bear the entire weight at once. You will never be asked to carry something too heavy. You will only be asked to carry your own weight.
  • When you lean scenery or materials against a wall, be sure that the object is a sufficient distance between its base and the wall, so it will not fall back by itself.


Working on ladders and scaffolds presents a potential for a fall. If you must use a ladder, always have someone there to foot and hold the bottom for you. Do not stand on the top or any steps the safety labels indicate. Before you get on a ladder, make sure that all four legs are firmly on the floor. Remember not to leave tools and hardware or anything heavy on top of a ladder. This will lead to the next person who moves the ladder getting hit in the head by a falling object. When you are working above on a ladder you must take extra precautions. You need to be aware of overhead scenery and lighting instruments and the electrical cable. Do not have loose items in pockets that may fall and whenever possible, tools should be attached to you. If you can't attach tools, extra precautions must be made to keep people below aware of you and your work.

Fire Safety:

  • Most of the materials in the shop are combustible.
  • Paint solvents etc., are highly flammable and are kept in a special cabinet.
  • Welding and grinding produce sparks. Paper, sawdust, oil, and all flammable items must be moved away from the work area during these procedures.
  • Know where the Fire Exits are in the shop.
  • Know where the fire extinguishers are and what types we have in the shop.
  • No smoking!!!!

Working in the Theater Space

Fly System and Ropes

When you are the person responsible for raising and lowering scenery or equipment it is your responsibility to make sure that people are out of the way, that all hazards are cleared and that everyone on stage knows that you are about to move something in or out (down or up) on stage. This should be a loud verbal warning so all can hear you over all other work going on at the time. "Line set # 4 Coming in." This goes for lifting a bucket up to a scaffold to moving a one ton wall on a counterweight batten. Yes, you must watch the rope you are pulling and the object that it is moving at the same time.

Natural fiber ropes age and wear, so do not trust them completely.

Do not use any rope or hardware or cable that is worn or in questionable condition to fly anything that is heavy or could lead to a hazardous situation. We do not want to endanger the lives of anyone. If you have a question always ask someone who knows.

Working Above

Whenever you are to work on the grid loading deck or any other overhead platform, all tools must be secured so they can't fall. Loose change and items in your pockets can cause serious injury if dropped from thirty feet. They should be removed before you ascend. You are responsible to make sure the people working beneath you know you are above them, and whenever possible they should be cleared from the area. If by chance an accident occurs and you do drop something, you should yell "HEADS!"

Do this clear and loud so people know where the warning is coming from and can scatter out of the way of danger. If you are below and hear "heads" yelled, get out of the freaking way. Do not let curiosity get the best of you and look up to see what is falling. This may lead to your face getting up close and personal with a stage weight and could cause serious injury or death.

If you need to work above in an area that does not provide railings and there is a possibility of a fall that could cause injury, you must wear proper fall protection equipment. You should also be trained in the correct use of this equipment.

Stage Elevator Lifts

Stage lift (elevators) is found in the forestage of Toland Theatre. This is a large and dangerous piece of equipment. It has the capability of snapping a large piece of a set in half and could easily shear off a foot or crush someone to death. This lift should only be operated by trained individuals. You should obey all written and verbal instructions from them.

Set Strike

This is where a lot of dangerous work goes on in a short amount of time. Make sure you are aware of all the things going on around you. The fast work pace and the extra enthusiasm you will find does not change the need to pay attention and follow all the rules for working in the theater and with power tools. Pay extra attention to nails in wood and debris on the floor.

In case of an accident

Report all accidents to the faculty/staff person in charge.

911             Life Threatening Emergencies
9-9999     Other Emergencies
5-8000     Assistance & Information

There is a phone in the Technical Director’s office. There is a phone in the control booth.

Things you can do to be of help if an accident or emergency occurs.

  • Know where fire extinguishers are.
  • Know where the first aid kit is.
  • Know where the eye wash and emergency shower are.