As Hollywood resumes operations following the recent strikes by writers and actors, industry figures are urging for health and safety to be given precedence to prevent further jeopardy to lives.
A series of notable incidents has prompted concerns about the risks faced by actors and crew during film and TV productions.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins lost her life due to a live bullet discharged from a prop gun handled by actor Alec Baldwin on the set of the film Rust in 2021.
In the UK, the filming of the BBC motoring series Top Gear was halted after a crash that injured presenter Freddie Flintoff.
The UK’s Health and Safety Executive, the national safety regulator, examined the incident and announced it would not conduct further investigations. Flintoff and the BBC reached a settlement last month.
BBC News has uncovered widespread apprehension about inadequate safety practices in the UK’s film and TV industry.
The father of Hollywood star Rory Kinnear, actor Roy Kinnear, died in 1988 after being thrown from a horse while filming The Return of the Musketeers. Rory was just 10 years old when the incident occurred.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: “Thirty years later, things simply haven’t changed.
“You’ve got a lot of young people wanting to enter an industry that they know is perilous, both financially and in terms of work, but not necessarily aware of how perilous the practices on set are as well.
“Now is the time for this opportunity to be taken in terms of understanding that we don’t need to exclude excitement or creativity or invention for safety, that the two can and must work together.”
The president of the British Society of Cinematographers, Christopher Ross, emphasizes the need to address the hazards associated with the production of increasingly ambitious projects.
“At its very simplest, you’re just filming some people in a room and there is no health and safety requirement,” he told BBC News, adding: “We need to act.”
He said: “Film sets nowadays are starting to look more and more like construction sites – all the rigging, towers, cranes… every minute of every day you’re on a film set you will encounter dangers that you may not have been educated about and the film industry needs to take proper responsibility for that.”
Andra Milsome, who has been advocating for changes in health and safety regulations and training in the industry, is not surprised by Christopher Ross’s concerns. Her campaign began after her husband, Mark, lost his life during a filming incident.
During the inquest, the coroner highlighted that the risk to Mr. Milsome was not effectively recognized, assessed, communicated, or managed. The coroner expressed intentions to seek further evidence on safety protocols for coordinating stunts and would be reaching out to various organizations. However, Mrs. Milsome stated that nothing substantial resulted from these efforts, and no significant changes occurred.
Kinnear empathized with the Milsome family’s tragedy, emphasizing the need for on-set safety practices to be revamped. He stressed the urgency of preventing such incidents, asserting that no cinematic shot is worth someone’s life.
The film industry relies heavily on independent companies and freelancers, making it challenging to determine the responsible employer. In most cases, the producer or production company assumes this role, with the duty to provide a safe working environment. However, experiences in this regard vary.
While the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) offers guidance for production companies, there are calls for more standardized training and regulation across the industry. The HSE can only investigate incidents when notified, and any changes to existing regulations would necessitate legal amendments.
Bectu, the broadcasting, entertainment, communications, and theatre union, conducted a questionnaire among its members, with over 700 respondents expressing concerns about compromised safety at work. Almost 500 respondents advocated for more formal safety protocols and standards.
Freelancers, predominant in the industry, often hesitate to question on-set decisions due to fears of being blacklisted. An anonymous grip revealed instances where risk assessments were only conducted after filming, as time pressure and tight schedules took precedence over health and safety considerations.
Samantha Wainstein, chair of the Mark Milsome Foundation, attributed mistakes on sets to time pressure and rushed decision-making. She highlighted the absence of a requirement for individuals to prove health and safety training, contributing to a lack of accountability when incidents occur.
With the film industry facing a surge in new studios and potential skills shortages, calls for a change in health and safety practices grow stronger. Bectu, Christopher Ross, and the Milsome Foundation propose allocating funds for proper health and safety training.
The Mark Milsome Foundation and ScreenSkills suggest a health and safety “passport” system, featuring different levels of job-specific training. Upon completion, individuals could digitally upload their qualifications to their CVs for employers to verify.
Christopher Ross urged collective action from corporate and government bodies to prevent further unnecessary deaths or life-changing injuries on film sets. He emphasized that if a change in laws is required for this purpose, it should be pursued.