Health and safety in the film and TV industry
Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Health and safety in filming is always a hot topic, now it’s red hot due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A ‘Production company' is generally the 'employer' of crew, actors and stunt performers etc... So, it is their responsibility to make sure that there is a health and safety policy in place for a production. However, the health and safety responsibility doesn’t stop there – Producers, Production Managers, Directors and even crew members have a duty of care.
This is me performing a stunt in a scene from 'Gangs of London' with Stunt Coordinator Jude Poyer.
Why have I written this article?
This article is for people who want to get some basic insights into health and safety in productions. I have been in the filming industry for over 22yrs and I am qualified in Safety Management in Film and TV Production.
As an ex-firefighter, I also have a certificate in health and safety in the workplace. It's an aspect of my life that has been an ongoing learning and training process, dealing with emergency situations and being aware of potential hazards was the major part of my work in the London Fire Brigade.
Hopefully, you find some useful information from this article, that's my goal.
Production companies are having to make big changes to their health and safety procedures. It’s not just a matter of the physical care of those involved in a production, we now have the extra challenge of dealing with a pandemic. Hygiene is of the upmost importance as is protection, both adding time and money to a budget and filming schedule. Whilst this extra pressure is rather daunting we have to remember the added restrictions from social distancing are temporary. It shouldn’t scare production companies, they just need to do extra planning. It appears they are and things are starting to move again in the industry.
Health and safety...
'Health and safety policies' - safety responsibilities are moral, legal and economic, by that I mean the well being of a person, the rules, regulations and costs.
It’s important to remember that different countries and locations may have different legislations, it’s also key to remember that each scene in a production will present itself with a different set of risk factors.
This leads me to the most important thing about health and safety… planning.
Good planning and communication are vital...
It’s true, a lot of health and safety is common sense but that alone is not enough. In a production there have to be risk assessments, profiling and a chain of responsibility list.
Good communication is key and it all starts in the pre-production meetings. The relevant production team will discuss the procedures put in place having done script breakdowns etc… During the process of a script breakdown is where a Stunt Coordinator and or a Fight Coordinator gets involved if there are stunts or indeed fights. They have to analyse each action scene and see what it involves with regards to performers, actors, budget and safety.
I'm going to simplify everything for now...
I’m going to break down the health and safety aspects of a production into bullet points. I won’t go into great detail because there are so many variables and different elements involved in different productions. This is a rough guide, just dipping our toes into the health and safety pond...
Let's start with the key facts, there needs to be...
Planning, policies and procedures, including insurance of course
Script breakdowns, risk assessments and risk profiling
Documentation, monitoring and reviewing
All the planning and procedures in the world don’t stop accidents occurring, it reduces the chances of them happening. We can all do the best to our knowledge and ability to prevent them but unfortunately sometimes things happen that are simply out of our control.
When it comes to script breakdowns, the relevant people in the production team examine each scene, in an action movie the Stunt or Fight Coordinator would have to go through the scenes and look at potential hazards, documenting their findings and creating options to reduce any risks.
A risk assessment is a careful examination of what could cause harm in a scene and there are core elements:
Evaluate the risks and what are the hazards?
Who could get hurt and what is the likelihood?
Who controls the areas of potential hazards? An explosives technician for example
Record findings and review them
What other considerations should there be?
Location, set, time of day, temporary electrical cabling and filming equipment
Props, weapons, performers capabilities and well being
Let's delve a bit deeper and look for examples of potential risks:
The concentration of performers in a high-risk environment – are they tired or distracted?
Weather change on outside shooting and losing light/visibility
If the set isn’t in a film studio there are other risks that may not be in your control. For example, glass falling from a building window or asbestos in the walls
The temperature of the set - too hot, too cold
Public and private access to the set
Installations on sets for scaffolding etc...
Fire risk and emergency exits
Wear and tear of equipment
Use of ladders
Cleaning and washing facilities
Toilets and hygiene
There are many more things to think about...
**Another important consideration is if you are using contractors for different aspects of a production – what health and safety procedures do they have?**
Health and safety in the filming industry can seem a bit overwhelming but production companies have procedures in place and they adapt them to suit the genres of the production and other factors.
Negligence can result in serious injury, a ruined reputation and possible prosecution so health and safety are very important.
Find out more about the UK government health and saftey legislations here.
Find out more about more about Safety Management in Film and TV Production here.