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Tent-handling practice that killed 3 is common, renters say

The deaths of three workers in Arkansas this month resulted from a practice that is common in the event rental industry, many say. The three workers died when supports in the intact tent they lifted over a fence touched power lines, electrocuting them. Three other workers handling the tent survived.

“That accident could happen to any tent company in the country,” says the president of one event rental company who prefers to remain anonymous. “All of our crews have done this and we have all been really lucky up to this point. In this business, we have a large low-wage [workforce] and seasonal turnover, so the awareness of possible danger isn’t always observed.”

Many rental operators tell Eventline that the practice of moving an intact tent rather than dismantling it is common. “This is done all the time,” says John Jakob of Horsefeather Trading Co. in Dallas. “I have done it myself. I’ve have also moved tents on the backs of vehicles.”

Rental operators note that the quirks of event sites, the pressures of approaching deadlines and the changing whims of clients may force the rental company to move the tent without dismantling it.

Even so, thorough site inspection and proper supervision of the crew might have averted the disaster. “This is always avoidable,” Jakob says. “Prior to moving a tent, power lines should be pointed out and avoided.”

Both the American Rental Association and the tent rental division of the Industrial Fabrics Association International offer training aids to ensure safe tent handling. For more on this subject, see the next “Rental Essentials” column in our December issue of Special Events Magazine.

Many rental companies are using the tragedy as a reminder to their crews that tent work is serious work.

“We immediately enlarged a newspaper clipping of this accident and posted it right in front of our time clock for everyone to read,” notes Edwin Knight, CERP, head of Celebration Rentals in Pipersville, Pa

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