Better Safe Than Sorry: Nine Basics Moviemakers Should Cover For On-Set Safety

The industry is fraught with potential hazards for accidents.

A select few on-set tragedies receive attention in the media, but even more are hidden from the press, known only to crews sworn to confidentiality, or by way of litigation that arises later on. You can cut a lot of corners making an independent film, but cutting corners with the safety of your cast and crew should never be an option.

This is a checklist from an attorney-come-production safety instructor with experience in multiple OSHA safety investigations.

1. Adopt a proper “safety manual” before each production, which must address matters unique to your film. Circulate the safety manual to all department heads. Make sure everyone understands it and knows where it is in case of an emergency. Besides the ICG Safety app, a great resource to refer to is the Pledge to Sarah app, created by anonymous industry workers in memory of the Midnight Rider camera assistant, which gives users access to safety bulletins as well as hotlines.

2. Make safety concerns a part of the pre-production read-through of the script with all department heads. Someone at the meeting must analyze each scene, identifying safety concerns. If your set requires excessive work hours, this should be the subject of discussion before cameras roll: Can nearby accommodations be provided to the crew? Can alternative modes of transportation be offered? Can a medic certify each person safe to drive before they leave the set? Can coffee or nap opportunities be made available?

3. Select a competent 1st AD who understands that part of his or her work duties includes overseeing safety on the set. Articulate to all that while the 1st AD oversees safety, safety is everyone’s responsibility.

4. Have five-minute “safety talks” at the start of each crew day. Encourage interactive dialogues with crew about safety concerns.

5. Place important safety information on the daily crew sheet. Include information about safety concerns for that particular day (e.g. “fire stunt” or “extreme weather conditions”) as well as information regarding the nearest hospital.

6. Have an on-set medic, or, at the very least, a crew member with CPR and first aid training.

7. Obtain proper permits for dangerous activities, notify governmental authorities that may have specific protocols to follow (e.g. the fire department and police), and use trained stunt coordinators, animal wranglers, etc. Guerilla filmmaking (where shots are obtained without lawful permits) is stupid if those who issue permits can help eliminate dangers associated with a location.

8. Be fully aware of federal, state, and local rules governing all aspects of labor law, as well as relevant union requirements.

9. Thoroughly discuss unique safety concerns with production counsel and your insurance provider. They can help limit the danger and your exposure to liability if things go wrong. Putting safety first is not just ethically responsible, it’s proper fiscal protocol. As repeat players skilled in identifying risks, insurance carriers can provide an itemized list of precautions to prevent accidents in unique situations. MM

This article appeared in MovieMaker‘s Fall 2014 issue.

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