- By Sophie van Brugen
- Entertainment reporter
As Hollywood returns to work following the recent writers and actors’ strikes, industry figures are calling for health and safety to be made a priority to avoid any more lives being put at risk.
A series of high-profile accidents has raised questions about the hazards involved for actors and crew members while shooting films and TV shows.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed by a live bullet fired from a prop gun being used by actor Alec Baldwin on the set of the film Rust in 2021.
The UK’s Health and Safety Executive, the national safety regulator, looked into the accident and said it would not be investigating further. Flintoff and the BBC reached a settlement last month.
BBC News has found widespread concern about poor safety practices in the UK’s film and TV industry.
Hollywood star Rory Kinnear’s father, actor Roy Kinnear, died after being thrown from a horse while filming The Return of the Musketeers in 1988. Rory was just 10 years old when it happened.
He told the BBC: “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, says the dangers that come with the production of increasingly ambitious projects need to be addressed.
“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.
“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.”
During the inquest the coroner said: “The risk of Mr Milsome being harmed or fatally injured was not effectively recognised, assessed, communicated or managed.”
The coroner went on to say that he would be requesting further evidence on protocols around ensuring safety in coordinating stunts and would be writing to a number of organisations. Mrs Milsome said that “ultimately nothing came of it and that nothing has changed”.
What happened to the Milsome family resonated with Kinnear. “There was a new family having to live the similar tragedy to the one that me and my family had experienced, and again, something that was easily avoidable and just shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “On-set safety practices that could have been changed.”
The actor added: “We need to do something so that these things never happen again. Fundamentally, I don’t think anyone has ever gone to the cinema and seen a shot and thought, that’s worth somebody dying for.”
The industry uses large numbers of independent companies and freelancers and it is sometimes difficult to decide who the employer is.
In the majority of cases, the employer will be the producer or production company. There is a duty upon them to provide a safe working environment for their workers, but experiences are varied.
The HSE has guidance for production companies but there are calls for more standardised training and regulation so that everyone is doing the same thing.
They say they can only investigate when they’re notified about an incident and that any change to the current regulations would require a change in the law.
A spokesperson for the regulator said: “Accidents that are reportable must be reported, in order for us to build a bigger picture to ensure working environments are safe.”
A questionnaire sent to members of Bectu – the broadcasting, entertainment, communications and theatre union – asked 730 people to answer questions about safety at work.
When it asked members if they had ever felt their safety or that of a colleague had ever been compromised at work, more than 700 people said yes.
Asked if there should be more formal safety protocols and standards in the industry, 498 of those who responded said there should.
Because the majority of people who work in this area in the UK are freelance, many feel reluctant to question decisions made on set for fear of being blacklisted.
A grip (a technician who sets up camera equipment), who wanted to remain anonymous, told the BBC: “I’ve been on several shoots where risk assessments haven’t been done until after filming is complete. Time pressure schedules always override health and safety.”
Time pressure and falling behind on schedules is something that Samantha Wainstein, chair of the Mark Milsome Foundation, attributes to mistakes being made and decisions being rushed through.
“There’s no requirement in this country for somebody to prove that they’ve been health and safety trained, and when something happens, the buck is passed around,” she said.
Time for change
Many believe the time to change the industry’s approach to health and safety is now. The pause during the Covid pandemic and the recent strikes has given people the chance to reassess.
And with the surge of new film and sound studios being built to respond to demand, experts such as Ross warn it could also result in a potential skills shortage due to more people working having not had proper health and safety training.
So when it comes to health and safety on set, Bectu, Ross and the Milsome Foundation suggest money is set aside to train people properly.
The solution being suggested by the Mark Milsome Foundation and industry training body ScreenSkills, comes in the form of a health and safety “passport” where there are different levels of training that are job and role specific.
The qualification can then be digitally uploaded to a CV on successful completion, which employers would be able to check.
Ross says: “I would love for there not to be another death on a film set. That would be a great legacy – if everybody can combine so that no-one else dies on a film set unnecessarily and no-one else is injured in a life-changing way on a film set.
“All of the corporate bodies and all of the government bodies need to act in order to make this change. And if that requires a high level change of law – if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.”
William Turner is a seasoned U.K. correspondent with a deep understanding of domestic affairs. With a passion for British politics and culture, he provides insightful analysis and comprehensive coverage of events within the United Kingdom.