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Shop Etiquette

As a designer who also dabbles in “prep”, or “The Fine Art of Putting Things Together To Make A Lighting Rig”, I often spend a great deal of time in warehouses of various repute. For those playing the home game, this is the big physical space where all a company’s equipment is stored, pending rental or sale, and many also have spaces for various maintenance tasks, such as fixture repair or tour prep. And as an independent contractor, I’m never working directly for the companies whose warehouses I use. And much like another space we as people in this industry spend our time in – the tour bus – there is a set of common rules and courtesies that act as the lubrication of the social engine, allowing camaraderie and commerce to proceed unimpeded. Let us examine some of the Best Practices I’ve found over the years.

Learn the rules

This is, by far, the biggest thing to remember and by far the hardest. Every warehouse has a set of rules and expectations that may not be explicitly defined – but following them (or failing to do so) can be the difference between the warehouse manager asking you politely to defenestrate yourself, or quietly telling you where the secret stash of Warehouse Dippin’ Dots and Breyers is. Some (ware)houses absolutely do not want you touching their gear when it is on the shelves, because they have a very specific process to go through for inventory management. Some houses have different inventory management systems and absolutely want you to be the one to pull what you need, as long as you fill out form TPS-622 in triplicate. Whatever the processes that various warehouses operate under, our jobs as contractors are infinitely more enjoyable when we go in with a full set of understandings about how to operate and go about our business.

Clean up

There are several episodes of the wonderful MythBusters that a sign in visible hanging in the M5 Industries shop, which reads “Clean up or die”. While probably a bit of an overstatement, keeping our work areas clean is not only courteous, it also helps to facilitate efficient work by making it easy to find things, move gear around, and convey professionalism. This is not to say that work areas never get messy – quite the opposite, by the very nature of the work that we do, they’re going to get cluttered with tape, pliers, Sharpies, bits of flotsam and jetsam of every sort. But it is exceedingly important not only for one’s relationship with the other denizens of the shop, but also our own sanity to keep our work areas reasonably free of aforementioned clutter, dust, bits of tape, and small woodlands creatures. Ever tried to roll a case over a floor only to have one of the casters hit a screw and come to an instant dead stop? It’s unpleasant, and as your liver ponders shutting down because of the sharp corner of a road case that it just became intimately familiar with, you might choose to ponder why someone couldn’t be bothered to pick up after themselves.

Clean up. It’s the right thing to do and you won’t need a liver transplant.

Always Return Tools

I deliberately did not title this one “always ask before taking tools” because this is not always practical, and it’s not always clear that a given drill might belong to a specific person and isn’t a generic “shop” tool. Of course, if it’s obvious that a given piece of gear belongs to someone in particular, or is sitting at someone’s workstation, one should ask before taking it. However, in shop environment, large “communal” bins of implements of similar size and function tend to accumulate – the “tub-o-screwdrivers” being an example common to many shop spaces. The important thing in a situation like that is to always return such probably-communal tools to wherever they were found before leaving for the day. A corollary to this is to always mark any tools that you bring personally so there’s no way they will be mistaken as belonging to someone else. (Or the shop.) Personally, I color any personal tools that I bring with yellow electrical tape – my personal Pelican toolcase is bright yellow – and I write my name and phone number on any gear whenever practical. (Multimeters, for instance.)

Be Safe

I leave this one until last because like the first, it’s very important. Shop work can be a lot of fun – we form great relationships with our coworkers, joke around, and enjoy more than our fair share of nerd and lighting-industry related humor. It can be very easy to cut corners in a shop environment – live-connecting feeder, wrapping spansets incorrectly, wearing flip-flops – and all it takes is a single arc flash, or truss crashing to the ground, or a case zigging when you wanted it to zag to make everyone involved have a Very Bad Day. Follow best practices, not only because generally we like the people we work with and want them to survive to see another day, but also because nobody wants to tell the owner of the company that 12 moving lights were crushed on the cold, unyielding cement today because someone couldn’t find a pin for a shackle, side-loaded it and left it open.

Don’t do that.

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