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Labor officials say 'Spider-Man' safer now

Spider-Man flies across the theater during a preview

Spider-Man flies across the theater during a preview show of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" at Foxwoods Theatre in Manhattan. (June 2, 2011) Credit: Ari Mintz

State and federal labor officials said Tuesday they believe "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," the long-delayed and trouble-plagued show that opened officially at the Foxwoods Theatre in Manhattan Tuesday night, is safer now than before the four accidents last year that injured cast members and prompted federal charges against the producers.

The state Labor Department said it approved a new permit for the show after producers agreed to "extensive safety measures," including the presence during shows of an independent certified theater rigger -- John M. Eckert, who, according to the Internet Movie Database, has done production work on a long list of TV and theater productions going back to 1974.

The show also agreed to new training for people involved in its aerial maneuvers, the state said. The department has statutory jurisdiction over safety of equipment such as ropes, harnesses and other moving parts of aerial maneuvers, said department spokesman Leo Rosales.

The insurance carrier for "Spider-Man" reportedly is Chubb, headquartered in Warren, N.J., whose representatives didn't return calls Tuesday. The agent broker is DeWitt Stern Group of New York, where an official referred questions to show spokesman Rick Miramontez. He didn't return calls, but he told The Associated Press in March that the musical "remains in compliance with all government agencies and continues to adhere to all safety protocols."

Experts say any theatrical production is high-risk and becomes more so when dance numbers are involved and still more so when there are flying stunts and any interaction with the audience that might endanger them. "In a show where actors come into the audience, the risk could be higher," said attorney David H. Paige, managing director and general counseling for the insurance brokerage Sterling & Sterling Inc. in Woodbury. His company has no involvement with the show.

In March, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleged three violations of workplace safety standards by producer 8Legged Productions, after the accidents last year on Sept. 25, Oct. 19, Nov. 28 and Dec. 20. It said, "Employees were exposed to the hazards of falls or being struck during flying routines because of improperly adjusted or unsecured safety harnesses" and added, "An additional fall hazard stemmed from unguarded open-side floors that lacked fall protection." It also said the company failed to shield employees from being struck by moving overhead rigging components.

It proposed fines totaling $12,600. Labor department spokesman John Chavez said Tuesday that 8Legged contested the charges but that it and the department are negotiating a settlement. "As far as we can tell they have abated all the hazards," he said.

Said Sharon Emmons, owner of the brokerage Entertainment Pro Insurance in Las Vegas, "When OSHA gets involved, that is a big red flag that you've got a serious safety issue." She said only a few insurers will underwrite shows, among them Chubb, Travelers and Fireman's Fund.

With AP

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