Problems Related to the ‘Hazard Zone’ in New and Renovated Cinemas

By Marcel Kober | August 8, 2022 9:39 am PDT

Despite the ongoing consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the severely affected events industry, which is gradually recovering, new investments in the form of conversions or new buildings for event venues and other cultural institutions are inevitable. The population remains “film-hungry”, cinema is still worthwhile, streaming services are moving away from their hybrid film releases. Innovation in the industry is also inevitable and new business avenues are being explored. Whether payments via cryptocurrencies, NFTs for film advertising or TikTok PR, all generations look set to retain the fascination of cinema in the 21st century.

In order to be able to modernize the cinemas in line with the spirit of the times it is all the more important to have clear legal requirements and safety standards. The IEC 62368-1 and IEC 62471-5 standards are currently causing some unhappiness for cinema operators. Beyond the legal terminology, this means regulations similar to the national DIN standard regarding the safety of laser devices, which result in a danger area, also known as a “hazard zone” in the cinema auditorium.

According to these internationally standardised regulations, the safety zone must be observed for projectors with both xenon and laser light sources if they exceed the exposure limit values, which is the case with a laser class 4. Within this calculated hazard zone, no people may stay and/or have the opportunity to enter this area without aids – in the cinema this primarily refers to guests, but also includes staff and other third parties. Projectors may not be cleaned when switched on, and seating may only be set up in an area that is outside the danger zone.

The hazard zone must be accurately determined prior to installation. This danger area is specifically defined for each projector type of the respective manufacturer and is calculated from the maximum light intensity and the optics used, whereby the longest focal length is decisive for the optics. The danger area runs towards the lens in a funnel shape from the calculated danger area distance and its resulting image size. To the left and right of it with an additional safety width of one meter and below with an additional safety height of two meters as a distance around the projection beam.

Human health may be damaged in the danger zone. This includes significant impairment of vision due to damage to the eye, reddening of the skin, burns of the skin or the risk of cancer, It should also be noted that laser radiation can cause even more intense damage than solar radiation. Those affected can assert claims for damages from the operator according to §§ 153, 823 BGB (German Civil Law Book) as well as compensation for pain and suffering. Furthermore, non-compliance can also lead to the closure of the site by the responsible authorities. In the case of projectors that have already been installed, there is old stock protection, so a conversion is not forced.

Cinema technology companies and integrators are also obliged to comply with these construction and safety regulations and may only implement projects in compliance with the regulations. Improper interpretation of the standard can lead to the loss of seating, with fewer seat being considered ‘safe’ too install. It is irrelevant whether these areas of the auditorium are frequented or not. Proper planning must be carried out in order to retain seats, otherwise there is a risk that individual (rows of) seats or row passageways will be blocked.

A common, generally valid and understandable overview of what and how cinema operators and/or architects are de jure still allowed to build does not exist, every common cinema projector manufacturer provides different information (sometimes with online courses). Due to this rather confused and opaque safety standard with widely differing manufacturer information, there will be increasing challenges for planners, operators and all other parties involved until the problem is clarified. Where these lead and what antagonisms arise in case of doubt remains open at the moment.

Marcel Kober