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Have tents in your inventory? Then ARA’s new Safe Tenting Program is for you

By Connie Lannan

April 20, 2023

Safe tentingTents are an essential inventory item for many event rental operators. However, if they fail severely, the repercussions can be life-altering for all involved. That is why the American Rental Association (ARA) has created the new Safe Tenting Program that involves a whole host of resources to help ensure the safe installation of tents, the execution of successful events and reduced liability for the rental operator.  

“Safety is always going to be in the forefront of our minds at ARA,” says Kevin Gern, ARA’s vice president, education and risk management, who has spearheaded this initiative for the association. 

“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,” he says.  

One of the program’s main components is the new Tent Ballasting Tool, which was created in conjunction with the Advanced Textiles Association (ATA), formerly Industrial Fabrics Association International, or IFAI, and Clemson University.  

“This 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,” says Gern, who worked closely with ATA and Clemson University on this tool.   

Tent Ballasting ToolAn installer can quickly access this tool 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,” he says. 

An important aspect 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,” Gern says. “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.”   

While ARA’s Safe Tenting Program takes a deep dive into concrete ballasting, that doesn’t mean staking is out of the picture.  

“It is my opinion that staking will never go away,” Gern says. “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,” Gern adds. “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.” 

Tent ballasting

Gern says it boils down to asking important questions to determine the best method to use. “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,” he says.  

One of the main goals of ARA’s Safe Tenting Program “is to ensure people are installing tents correctly,” Gern emphasizes. “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.” 

For more information about ARA’s Safe Tenting Program and all its components, click here.