People always say it's a shame that this or that health or safety requirement isn't put in place until there is a tragedy that the requirement could have prevented. But that's just the way the world works. Even the precautions that seem the most obvious in hindsight might not occur to most people without a little prodding from reality. If something hasn't happened before, who expects it to happen in the future?
But when reality does come knocking, we do have to learn from our mistakes and go ahead to take the obvious precautions. So Indiana officials deserve praise for swiftly coming up with the state's first rules governing the type of temporary outdoor stage rigging involved in last summer's deadly State Fair stage collapse.
That tragedy, which killed seven and injured nearly 60 others, occurred when high winds toppled the rigging onto people below. The incident exposed a loophole in Indiana law. Although state law had long required permanent stages to be inspected, temporary stage equipment erected on those stages was not regulated under state code.
Members of the Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission voted unanimously in favor of the regulations, which board chairman David Hannum said take effect now and will serve as a placeholder until permanent rules are in place.
The state seems to be doing this the right way. The new regulations will protect the public, but smaller events will be insulated from requirements that are too burdensome and costly for them. Temporary stages and structures will have to be inspected and certified as sound. Smaller fairs and festivals would be exempt from most of the regulations, with the exception of preparing an evacuation plan, if they create a buffer zone keeping people out of an area around their stages that extends 8 feet beyond the height of the rigging to protect fans in case of a collapse.
Some will argue that the rules should have no exceptions – make them strict and apply them to everybody, whether it's the State Fair or a small county event that attracts just a few dozen people. But somebody in Indianapolis must be smart enough to realize that's not the right way to approach risk. We can't protect ourselves from everything, foresee all possibilities, minimize all threats. Who wants to live in a world made safe for motoring with a maximum speed limit of 5 mph?
Somewhere between reckless disregard and total paranoia is a sweet spot containing just the right amount of risk management. Officials don't always find it, but it helps that they know to look for it.