Working with Electricity

Never take electricity, electrical appliances or lighting units for granted. Electrocution is the fifth leading cause of workplace death from injury. More than half of those deaths resulted from the use of defective equipment or not following safe procedures. The following guidelines will help you reduce the risk of electrical shock.

  • Before leaving the Cage or rental house with electrical equipment, examine all cables for breaks or cuts in the insulation. Do the same with cables on production stages prior to connecting power. Never use damaged cables.
  • Do not let your body become grounded. If you are grounded, it means you may become part of the electrical circuit and thus are likely to have electricity pass through your body. This can be fatal.
  • There are many factors that can increase your risk of becoming grounded and receiving an electrical shock. The following is a partial list:
    • wet feet
    • wet hands
    • wet or damp floor or ground
    • wet lamps
    • wet cables
    • touching two lamps at the same time – even when conditions are dry
    • faulty circuits at your location
    • faulty wiring of your lighting equipment, appliances or cable insulation
    • breaks or cuts in the cable
    • touching electrical equipment and a grounded object any place where water is present
  • Know where the circuit breakers are at your location and do not overload any circuit. If a circuit breaker trips when you turn on your lights, it means that you have overloaded the circuit. Do not reset the circuit breaker and try again. Plug some of the lights into other circuits at the location before resetting the circuit breaker.
  • Carry, as part of your equipment, an extension cable which has a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). A GFCI device will break the circuit if there is a surge of electricity which can occur when a person is accidentally grounded. GFCIs are essential when working around water or moisture.
  • Older locations which have only the two-prong type outlets must be avoided. These outlets are not grounded and present a significant risk of electrical shock. Also, if your location uses the old screw-in fuses, do not shoot there. If that location is essential to your film, you must provide electricity from a rented generator.
  • Never use aluminum ladders or any metal supports such as kitchen step stools when working with electricity.
  • Tape down electrical cables. If rubber matting is available, use it over cables and tape the matting down.
  • Never place lights under or near a sprinkler head. The heat can set off the sprinklers which will cause extensive water damage.
  • Never touch two lights at the same time. If one of them is improperly grounded, you will become an electrical conductor and you will receive a shock.
  • Do not reach for an electrical appliance that has fallen into water. Unplug the device immediately.
  • Always hold the cable connector or plug when disconnecting a cable. Never pull from the cable. Doing so will weaken the wires inside the cable and can disconnect the grounding wire.
  • Examine all electrical equipment for signs of wear. Watch out for breaks or openings in any cable, any plug or any place where the cable attaches to a lamp.
  • Uncoil electrical cables before they are used. Cables must not be coiled while they are connected to power. Coiled cables can generate heat which can damage the insulation of the cable.
  • Make sure equipment is properly grounded.
  • Keep electrical equipment away from water and dampness.
  • Feet and hands must be dry when doing any kind of work involving electricity. Never use electrical equipment if your hands are moist, even if it’s from perspiration, as this can mean the difference between a light shock and a fatal shock.
  • If rain is imminent, stop and disconnect power before you and your equipment get wet.
  • Do not charge auto batteries or use jumper cables without following the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  • Do not use auto batteries to run cameras.

If Someone Receives a Shock

Do not pull the victim away with your hands – you will be shocked, too. Use a broom, belt, towel, rope or other non-conductive material to separate the victim from the source of shock. Try to disconnect the source of shock and call for an ambulance. Once the victim is separated from the electrical source, if there is a CPR-certified person on set, begin CPR immediately and continue until the ambulance arrives.

Plugging and Unplugging Electrical Equipment

  • Visually inspect the condition of the plug, cable, and equipment for any signs of excess wear, frayed cables or exposed current-carrying parts. DO NOT USE any equipment in this condition. Return this equipment for repair.
  • All grounded equipment should be tested for continuity between the ground pin on the plug and the metal parts of the lighting equipment before it is put into service. If you are unsure about how to do this, request help from one of the technicians at the Cage.
  • Turn off power whenever possible. Be sure to turn off all equipment before it is plugged or unplugged to avoid creating an electrical arc at the receptacle.
  • Wear protective gloves to avoid getting burned from a flash created by a short-circuit in the equipment.
  • Check to be certain that you do not plug Alternating Current (AC) to Direct Current (DC).
  • Occasionally, additional electricity may be required to light a large set. One way to obtain this power is to “tie-in” to the electrical panel of a location or building. CalArts School of Film/Video students may not “tie-in” to electrical mains. Only a licensed electrician can “tie-in” to power and disconnect power at the location.
  • If you need additional electrical power for a set or location beyond what is available, you will have to rent a generator. Permission to use a generator must be given by your instructor and Production Services.


When shooting a scene with an actor in a bathtub, DO NOT mount lights above the bathtub. Position the lights off to the side, and secure the spreaders, stands, lights and barn doors with safety chains so they do not fall into the water. Electrical current in bath water can be fatal.

Table of Contents