A Childhood Hero, Risk Management and Event Stage Railings

Brian Billick. Lou Holtz. Cal Ripken, Jr. Ray Lewis. Art Donovan. Brooks Robinson. Johnny Unitas.  Bill Walton. Art Modell.  Marshall Faulk.

I’ve been fortunate to meet many sports greats through working in the events field over the years.  The names I have listed were all cordial and pleasant in my interactions with them.  There is only one sports legend I have ever asked for an autograph in my lifetime – Brooks Robinson.

For those not familiar with Brooks Robinson, he was a third baseman with my hometown Baltimore Orioles from 1955 until he retired in 1977 and became a color commentator on the team’s broadcasts for many years thereafter. Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, Brooks has a great list of accomplishments:

  • 1964 American League Most Valuable Player
  • 1970 World Series Most Valuable Player
  • 16 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1960-1975

In 1976, outfielder Reggie Jackson was with the Orioles and supposedly commented that “If I played in New York, they’d name a candy bar after me.” Well, Jackson signed with the Yankees the following year and the Reggie candy bar debuted at the Yankees 1978 home opener.  Gordon Beard, the then Associated Press Baltimore-based sports reporter came back with a classic quote – “Brooks never had a candy bar named after him.  In Baltimore, people name their children after him.”  I have two friends that have named their sons “Brooks.”

So why am I rambling on about one of my childhood heroes?  The Palm Beach (FL) Post reports that Brooks Robinson fell backwards from a stage during a charity dinner on Friday, January 27th and suffered two fractures to his shoulder, including a broken clavicle.

According to the report, players were sitting on an elevated stage with three rows of seating, each row being higher than the row below it.  Robinson was sitting in the top row, which was not placed against a wall and only had a curtain backdrop.  Another player on the dais commented that when Robinson went to get up, he leaned back on his chair and the chair went over the side, with Robinson falling about 6-8 feet to the floor.  Another former baseball player fell from the stage earlier in the night in another incident.

Over the years, I have had my fair share of debate and conflict over stage railings with clients, venues and safety officials.  Sometimes common sense prevailed and both sides were able to come up with a workable solution to keep everyone happy.   Sometimes I spent “quality time,” after the event, in the office of one or more of my senior managers who felt that I compromised the venue and put them at a liability risk.  I’ve been lucky in that I have never had to fill out “paperwork” for an incident of someone falling from a riser.  I always believed that I took calculated risks – the last thing I wanted was to do “paperwork” if something were to happen.

My basic philosophy in regards to portable staging platforms was that the back of the stage (30 inches or higher) should always have safety railings unless it was against a hard wall, which made the railing unnecessary.  Side rails were to be added at the request of the client and wherever there was not a rail, there would be reflective tape on the perimeter of the staging to show the edges to performers.

Using a tiered staging to have a large head table set, my rule of thumb was generally if a fat person (me!) had room to maneuver around, we would be fine.  As a consequence, I usually had 8’ of depth rather than 6’ to work with.

Federal OSHA standards generally require rails for heights above 48 inches.  Some states OSHA standards may have a lower height, so you should work closely with your event manager at the venue to determine what standards need to be met.  If you have any reasonable doubt, you should put the rails in place.

Get well Brooks!

One Response to A Childhood Hero, Risk Management and Event Stage Railings

  1. Greg:

    This is good stuff! Thank you for sharing.

    I think more event and meeting professionals should be thinking like you do. I even question if there really needed to have three rows on the stage, each on a higher row. I can’t figure out in my mind why they felt that was needed. Now if they were playing a game like Hollywood Squares or What’s My Line, then I get it. Otherwise, I don’t.

    Seems they could have put those three rows on the floor with a camera on them projected on a screen and captured the same results. But that’s just me.

    Thankfully, there are wise people like yourself that put safety first when it comes to meetings and events.

    BTW, it comes to my mind that you should write more stuff like this. I bet you have a lot of experience and stories you could share from behind the scenes.

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