Working in Production: 5 On-Set Safety Practices

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

Over 17,000 malpractice lawsuits are filed every year, and there are many causes to blame. Some may say it’s because people have become entitled and sue for imagined or accidental wrongs. Others say the malpractice spree was ignited due to willful and negligent practices that were injuring patients. Knowing the world as it is, it’s safe to assume it’s a little bit of both.

Medical malpractice is one of the leading lawsuits filed in America, but it’s not alone. 2.9 million workplace injuries were reported in 2016 by private industry employers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Delving deeper into the federal report, you’ll find that 849 fatal falls occurred in the workplace during 2016. Most are related to the fall-prone industry of construction, but there are other industries with an elevated falling risk. For example, the stunt/production industry.

1 in 5 falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones, head injury or worse. Late last year, stuntman John Bernecker suffered one of these falls on the set of “The Walking Dead” — a stunt went wrong possibly due to unsafe landing conditions — and he lost his life. His death adds to a line of fatalities and injuries that could have been avoided due to vehicle incidents, unsafe harnesses, volatile chemicals and dangerous working conditions.

Accidental or negligent — perceived fault will end with follow-up, penalties, investigations and the cost of your production’s time, money and reputation. Don’t fall prey to an occupational injury/fatality lawsuit due to either. Not only will it adversely affect you, but the production field as a whole like it has the medical industry.

If you aren’t concerned about your team’s safety on-set, get concerned and get knowledgeable. The following 5 safety practices should be implemented on-set from the moment your team arrives in order to ensure your indemnity and, much more importantly, their safety.

1. Adopt a Safety Manual

Before every project, address general safety protocol, unique risks, additional rules and provide management with safety manuals of their own. OSHA provides free safety handbooks for a myriad of purposes, and production-specific apps like the Pledge to Sarah app — created in memory of Sarah Jones, who lost her life on an unsafe set — are easily accessible to you and your team.

The OSHA handbooks are written by safety professionals and comprehensive in their reach, so take advantage of those instead of creating one from scratch. Also, leverage apps like Pledge to Sarah app which connects users to safety bulletins and hotlines from their phones. Don’t let anyone claim they didn’t know the safety guidelines or who to contact.

2. Assistant Director/Set Manager with Safety in Mind

Whoever is overseeing the day-to-day production, whether it changes per project or they are your second-in-command, needs to frame everything with safety. Major production/entertainment companies have safety initiatives that are integrated at every level.

Disney has Safe D — their personal mantra and guideline of working fun and working safe that is practiced in every position. It works because it’s upheld by an authority who keeps it a priority at all times. Your assistant director/safety manager need to know safety guidelines intimately and have the courage to speak up when others aren’t participating.

3. Safety Reminders Every Morning

Each day of production is filled with standard and unique risks that need to be acknowledged regularly. People, great as we are, do our best work when reinforced with simple guidelines. Before the workday begins, hold a meeting with everyone and go over the usual suspects — motivational speech, to-do list, field any questions, etc. — then discuss the day’s safety concerns.

If your team has been working in a dangerous environment, remind them that the environment is dangerous. Reminders might be considered annoying, but they are helpful. If there is a specific stunt or special effect planned for the day, let everyone know what safety measurements are being taken. Don’t worry about sounding like a Nervous Nelly, safety is important and you or your set manager’s job is to drive that home.

4. Professional Medical Assistance On-Set

This safety practice is self-explanatory. Events where a large group of people conglomerates to perform activities with even a minimal safety risk most likely have a medic or health professional at the ready, and your production set is no different. If your team is working in extreme environments, pulling long hours or performing activities that can lead to injury or worse, there needs to be someone who can help at the ready.

5. Know What is Legal

Possibly one of the most important safety practices when it comes to self-indemnification, ensure what you have been hired to produce is legal. Local, state and federal authorities have protocol for virtually any activity, and you will see those brought forth in the event of any injuries/fatalities. Obtain permits and notify the fire department and police of the production intentions. They will help keep your production set safe, secure and vouch that you took all the necessary precautions.

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About the Author

Wiley Geren
Wiley Geren
Wiley Geren is a writer and huge fan of the film industry. He has substantial experience in writing about video production, management, health and employee safety, and a vast knowledge of film quotes. His goal is to bring relevant news, management advice and technical knowledge to the production field. His work can be found on his website.

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