ARA’s new Safe Tenting Program outlines best practices
By Connie Lannan
April 17, 2023
No doubt you have seen news reports and/or YouTube videos of tents that failed so severely that they caused property damage or, much worse, resulted in loss of life. Businesses involved in those types of failures can have irreparable harm to their reputation and can even result in the business going bankrupt. For event rental operators, a tent failure of that magnitude is the worst nightmare scenario.
The American Rental Association (ARA) never wants an event rental operator to go through such a horrific experience. That is why it has created the new Safe Tenting Program, which offers a whole host of resources, including the new Tent Ballasting Tool that was created in collaboration with Advanced Textiles Association (ATA), formerly Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI), and Clemson University. These resources highlight best practices for safe installs for successful events and, in turn, reduces the liability of the event rental operator who put up the tent.
To understand more about why this program was developed and what it entails, Kevin Gern, ARA’s vice president, education and risk management, who has spearheaded this initiative for the association and worked closely with ATA and Clemson University, offered the following answers to questions posed by Rental Management.
Rental Management: What is the Safe Tenting Program and why is it important for event rental operators?
Kevin Gern: Safety is always going to be in the forefront of our minds at ARA. We always want to put out the best possible answers to questions that pertain to this topic. We understand that there will always be a good, better, best when it comes to procedural things, but we will always strive to have that best practice out there. The Safe Tenting Program includes a variety of resources, from the Tent Ballasting Tool to the eight-part video series, the new Tent Ballasting Guide, a Safe Tenting webinar and the updated Emergency Evacuation Plan for Tented Events. These resources offer ways that members can better educate themselves as well as their employees — both veteran and new hires — to make certain they understand the best possible practices to ensure a safe install process and a safe event, from sight inspection to the setup, takedown and everything in between. We want that process to be done as safely as possible and make sure that people are knowledgeable about what ‘safe’ means.
Rental Management: One of the main components of the program is the new Tent Ballasting Tool. What is it and how will it assist event rental operators?
Gern: The new tent ballasting tool, created in conjunction with ATA (formerly IFAI) and Clemson University, is a tool that tent installers can use to find out what the proper amount of ballast is needed for a given non-engineered tent based on dimensions, roof type, leg type and all those other factors — with walls or without walls. By plugging in the different values based on their specific install and tent dimensions, it will calculate and give you the proper amount of ballast you will need depending on the wind rating load you are shooting for. The best thing about this tool is that an installer can quickly access this by logging into RentalU. They can plug in all the factors or variables for their specific tent and specific install and put in the associated wind rating they want to have covered, and it will calculate the proper amount of ballast and weight per leg, depending on those values that you put in. It is based on best practices of the industry. Along with that calculator, we have some supplemental documents that are basic charts for common installs and sizes for gable end or hip end tents. Those charts will give a general understanding or idea of what kind of ballasting numbers they may see. They can use the tool to redefine or hone in on the precise tent install they are planning.
The important thing is that ARA, ATA and the Manufacturers and Tent Renters Association (MATRA) are on the same page and are using this tool because we all believe using it to get the right numbers is the best practice for the industry. In the past, there has been this big question mark as to what is the best practice as far as the proper ballasting of a tent. When it comes to tent installs, there hasn’t been any official entity that has addressed it like the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has addressed mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) or industrial forklifts. Now we have a tool that demonstrates the best safety practice for tent installs with ballasting.
Rental Management: As you mentioned, there are a variety of other resources offered. Why are they important?
Gern: It comes down to overall education of staff — employees and installers and those who quote the job — to understand what it takes to hold these tents down in a safe manner. There is a lot that goes into it. The more education we can put out there with these supplemental charts and documents and evacuation planning guide, the better. They are all pieces of the puzzle. When you take all of these pieces of the puzzle, train your folks on them and implement all of them, it will reduce your overall liability as an event rental company. At the end of the day, that is what we are all trying to do. We are trying to show that we take safety seriously and trying to ensure a safe event occurs where no one gets hurt — whether it’s an installer, someone attending the event or the general public — before, during or after the event. It is all about reducing that overall liability. By taking all of these pieces of the puzzle and putting them in play, we are decreasing liability and increasing the chance or opportunity for a successful event and repeat business from that customer for the event rental business.
Rental Management: All of these resources center around using concrete ballasts. What role does staking play in the safe install of tents?
Gern: It is my opinion that staking will never go away. The reason is that staking tends to be less expensive as far as transportation to the site. When you deal with concrete blocks, you have to ship those concrete blocks to the site, load them and unload them, set them up and move them around the site. There is a lot of additional cost when you have to move that much ballast into place. With stakes, you load them in the back of your truck, you pound them in and get great holding power in standard soil per stake. There are instances, however, in which you cannot use stakes or that stakes may not be allowed. This is true, especially in big cities, anytime you are near or around underground utilities or areas where customers won’t let you use stakes on their new asphalt parking lot or concrete, etc. There are all kinds of things running through the ground these days, and it is important to take this into consideration. The use of tent stakes will require additional site preparation and utilizing the 811 Call Before You Dig program for each state. In the large metropolitan areas, you will run into it more frequently. It boils down to asking the following questions: What is the customer going to allow for that site? What is below the ground? What is the holding power of that soil? If it is sand or in a swampy area, then stakes may not do it and you will have to use ballast blocks. There are many reasons why stakes won’t work. That is where ballasting is the way to go.
Rental Management: What has been the feedback of ARA member event rental operators?
Gern: It has been very positive. Even in casual conversation about the subject, people are very positive because it is creating education and awareness for installers, and it is pushing everyone to the same level of install, ballasting and safety. That levels the playing field a little more when quoting a job. Some might be taking shortcuts and not installing a safe tent because they are not using the proper amount or correct type of ballasts. They quote the job a lot less than the other company that is doing everything right and by the book the way it is supposed to be done. By pushing this kind of educational content and increasing awareness in the industry, you are leveling the playing field when it comes to pricing as well. A lot of the rental companies are excited to get this out there and in people’s hands so people can wake up to the real fact of how to do this correctly.
Rental Management: What is the overall goal of this program?
Gern: One of the main goals of this whole thing is to ensure people are installing tents correctly. Every time there is an incident on the news, a dark shadow is cast over the entire event industry. The more we educate, the less liability there is, the less risk there is and the less chance for those types of incidents to happen. That will help the industry overall. So, my hope is that rental operators will use these to educate themselves and their team. That is our first goal. Our second goal is to educate enforcement — fire marshals, fire departments, building codes people and inspectors — so they understand what the best practices are for the industry.
Safe Tenting Resources
The American Rental Association (ARA) has put together a whole host of Safe Tenting resources to help you not only create safe tenting installs for successful tented events but also reduce your liability.
A Safe Tenting Resources webpage with downloadable tent ballasting charts. This is the place to learn about the resources available, including access to an overview video for the tent ballasting video series and three tent ballasting chart examples. Visit ARArental.org/learn/safe-tenting to learn more.
The new, customizable Tent Ballasting Tool for nonengineered tents. This tool, which was created in partnership with the Advanced Textiles Association (ATA) Tent Rental Division, is designed to quickly and easily determine the minimum weight requirements to safely anchor or ballast non-engineered tents. To access, visit ARArental.org/learn/safe-tenting. You will need to log in to your ARA account.
The new tent ballasting video series. To go along with this tool, ARA has developed an eight-part video series that is available on RentalU at ARArental.org/rentalu. Topics covered include: how ballast blocks are made, transporting ballast blocks, safely moving ballast blocks, installing ballast blocks, covering ballast blocks, teardown and storage of ballast blocks, why concrete ballast blocks are a better option over water barrels and tent ballasting solutions.
The purpose of the series is to increase awareness of tent ballasting, share information on its benefits and provide best safety practices. These videos are free and designed to be used by everyone on your team to ensure they are following set standards for the safe ballasting of non-engineered tents.
The new Tent Ballasting Guide. This guide, created in conjunction with ARA Insurance and also available at ARArental.org/rentalu, offers important tenting and ballasting terminology, ballasting charts and additional safety information.
The updated Emergency Evacuation Plan for Tented Events. This free download for ARA members not only underscores the fact that tents are not designed to be used as shelters in emergency situations, but it also educates all involved about their roles in ensuring the safe use of the equipment, highlights the industry’s best practices regarding measures to take when emergency situations occur and helps communicate to your customers the necessity of having emergency evacuation plans in place for their events. Visit ARArental.org/rentalu, log in to RentalU and type in “Emergency Evacuation” in the search bar.
A Safe Tenting Webinar. This webinar, which occurred on March 22, highlighted the importance of accurate tent ballasting, offered an in-depth demonstration of how to use the new tent ballasting tool, reviewed the ballasting diagrams and tenting resources and provided a Q&A session. Access a recording of the webinar by typing in “Tent Ballasting Tool Webinar” in the search bar on RentalU for answers to your tent installation questions.