The non-negotiable importance of safety on set

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The recent and very tragic deaths on set of DOP, Carlos Carvalho and actor, Odwa Shweni serve as a stark reminder that safety on set and adequate preparation is not something to be taken lightly and that the production community must do more to ensure that these types of incidents do not happen again.

Shweni died after been swept over a waterfall in the Drakensberg while rehearsing a fight scene for local feature film Outside while Carvalho, who was an extremely well-known and popular DOP on commercials, was killed after being head-butted by a giraffe while filming an international feature film, Premium Nanny 2 at Glen Afric in Broederstroom, Hartbeespoort.

There will undoubtedly be many questions in the coming months about why these two accidents occurred, how they could have been prevented and what lessons the industry can learn from them.

The reality is that film sets can be very dangerous places and proper provisions must be made by production to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the making of a film or commercial as well as the general public. Although it may seem obvious, it’s worth reiterating some of the important issues that all filmmakers need to consider:

WORK WITH REPUTABLE PRODUCTION COMPANIES THAT ARE EXPERIENCED

As tempting as it may be to save money by using a production company that has limited experiences or makes a habit of cutting corners to save costs, the consequences can be dire when it comes to safety. When one considers that film sets often incorporate diverse and dangerous elements such as stunts, pyrotechnics, action vehicles, weapons, wild animals and hazardous locations, knowledge and experience count. A lot!

CARRY OUT A PROPER RISK ASSESSMENT

When planning anything that is remotely dangerous, it’s important to make sure a thorough risk assessment is done beforehand to identify any and every thing that could possibly go wrong. To do this, it’s important to bring in an expert with credible qualifications who can advise you of the risks and draw up a plan of action which everyone involved should be advised of in advance and should follow on the day.

USE THE SERVICES OF SKILLED professionals

Stuntmen, precision drivers, certified drone operators, special effects supervisors, armourers, pyro-technicians and a number of other professionals who are trained in safety in their area of expertise are an essential part of the film industry and should always be hired in. Under no circumstances should production companies try to take these responsibilities in-house as this could constitute negligence should an accident occur. It’s also important to ensure that all non-essential personnel remain clear of the action.

COMMUNICATE AND MAKE SURE YOU DO THE NECESSARY PAPERWORK

All matters relating to safety on set must be communicated properly by production to everyone involved and records must be kept detailing when and how this was done.  Although this kind of record-keeping may seem tedious and unnecessary, it is vital to ensure legal compliance.

APPOINT A QUALIFIED SAFETY OFFICER AND MEDIC TO OVERSEE SAFETY ON SET AND ATTEND TO ANY INCIDENTS THAT MAY OCCUR

Where the producer identifies potential risk, a certified safety officer should be appointed to oversee on-set safety and a qualified medic should be in attendance to treat anyone who is injured in an accident on set. When shooting particularly complex stunts or set ups, production should consider increasing the number of medics and having a medical rescue vehicle on standby. The safety officer and medics should always be in close proximity to the action and should not take on unnecessary additional functions or duties that could divert their attention away from potential risks.

IF IN DOUBT, SAY “NO”

Part of the safety plan on any set should be to encourage anyone who is apprehensive about safety or any activity they are asked to undertake to report their concerns to the safety officer or the producer without fear of recrimination.  All reports should be taken seriously, acted upon and properly documented.

PRIORITISE INSURANCE

Although it is not a legal requirement, all production companies should carry insurance to cover any accident that might occur on set. This includes:

Public Liability Insurance: Public liability protects against claims of personal injury or property damage that a third party suffers (or claims to have suffered) as a result of a production companies business activities. This applies to members of the public who are not involved in your production.

Emergency Medial Cover: This covers the medical evacuation and the emergency medical expenses of crew or cast – or any other nominated person on set – in the event of an accident in which they are injured.

Personal Accident: This cover provides compensation in the event of injuries, disability or death caused by violent, accidental, external and visible events that may occur on set.

It’s also advisable to take out a comprehensive Film Producer’s Package which includes cover for any loss or liability that may occur on a production.

The CPA has recently launched the “CPA Group Insurance Scheme” in collaboration with the Chesterfield Insurance Group in the UK and local brokers, CC&A Insurance Brokers. This is a bespoke insurance product which will substantially increase the benefits that are currently on offer in South Africa and provide increased protection to crew and cast working on set and also to production companies and their clients.

Written by Bobby Amm, executive officer, Commercial Producers Association

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