U.K. Staging Companies Face Inquiries

Two major U.K. production companies face official inquiries after their stages collapsed, one of them causing two deaths when a roof fell on workers getting ready for a Madonna show.

The accident came two days before her scheduled July 19 appearance at Marseille Stade Velodrome in France, which was canceled immediately.

A French worker was killed instantly when the giant structure fell apart. Charles Prow, a 23-year-old from Leeds, died later while hospitalized. Eight other workers were injured and five were said to be in serious condition at press time.

Marseille authorities said all the victims were working for Live Nation France, which was preparing the show at the 60,000-capacity stadium.

“At the moment we can’t say anything except we’re fully cooperating with the investigation,” said Edwin Shirley Staging (ESS) head of marketing Liz Madden.

The company, which is part of the ES Group, released a statement saying it’s incredibly saddened by the tragic accident and its thoughts go out to the families and loved ones of the two men who died and to those who were injured.

“Two of our directors have flown out to Marseille to visit the injured and to get a better understanding of what caused the accident,” it said. “At present, it would not be appropriate to speculate on potential causes of the accident, but we are working closely with French authorities to investigate what caused this incident. This is normal practice for such an incident and we will provide a further update as soon as it is possible.”

ESS supplies all the staging for Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet tour and company director Jeff Burke recently said in a magazine interview that safety is its “No. 1 priority and at the forefront of our planning.”

Accident investigators will need time to examine the site, although some news services are reporting the French authorities are determining whether there’s a case for manslaughter. Witness interviews began July 20.

Some news reports said a crane was believed to have fallen against the stage and both came down on several workers. Sky News reported police believe a faulty power winch may have played a part.

“Since it did not collapse right away, that allowed several people to get out, to avoid being hit,” Marseille city councilor Maurice Di Nocera told France-Info radio.

A note on the ESS Web site, which hadn’t mentioned the accident at press time, says the stage roof required an 85-foot cantilever and had to support a payload of nearly 100 tons. The company was contracted to deliver the stage to more than 30 locations. To achieve this schedule, five complete staging systems were required.

Serious Stages, which includes Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds, and WOMAD festivals among its clients, is also under investigation after one of its stages collapsed at London’s Hampton Court Palace June 15.

There already seems to be some confusion. The local Richmond council says it received the details from the Health & Safety Executive, although at press time the HSE couldn’t find any record of receiving a report.

IMG World, the corporate and special events promoter that runs Hampton Court Festival where the stage had been used, responded to Pollstar questions on the reporting of the event, saying, “IMG can confirm that on Monday June 15, 2009, an incident occurred involving the stage during the load out of the unit.

“IMG immediately reported this to the HSE and Serious Stages subsequently made a RIDDOR report to the HSE.”

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) place a legal duty on employers, self-employed people and people in control of premises to report work-related deaths, major injuries and dangerous occurrences, including “near misses.”

Photos obtained by Pollstar appear to indicate the left tower at the front of the structure buckled, causing the roof to cave in. It’s not known if anyone was injured.

Serious Stages came under fire for health and safety issues in 2002. Simon Honeywell of sound company R.G. Jones said the Glastonbury-based staging company “cut corners to the point that it was dangerous” and expressed reservations about how confident he felt hanging a PA on a Serious stage.