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High-Profile Case Shows TV & Film Industry Workplace Risks

Derek Tokarz

Derek Tokarz

Certified in Safety Management Group's Training in Fall Protection

Harrison Ford at Star Wars: The Force Awakens Premiere

This past summer lawyers representing actor Harrison Ford appeared in a British court in a case involving a production company. The company admitted to two breaches of health and safety law that preceded an accident in 2014 during the filming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Ford, who was 71 years old at the time, was on the Millennium Falcon set when a heavy door knocked him to the ground and pinned him down, breaking his leg.

The case has brought into focus the fact that television and motion picture production poses some of the same workplace hazards as construction and manufacturing occupations. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration enforces comprehensive safety rules for construction and manufacturing workplaces for the 24 states under its oversight. States with their own OSHA departments have modeled their own rules after the federal rules. But that kind of consistency is not evident in rulemaking for the TV and film industry.

A Patchwork of Safety Laws

As of Jan. 1, 2015, federal OSHA rules require TV and film companies to report any injuries requiring hospitalization, even if the hospitalization is less than one day. Before that rule update, companies were required only to report fatal injuries, unless a state-level OSHA office specified different reporting requirements. (California, for example, has the strictest workplace safety and reporting requirements for film and TV studios).

The new federal standards still won’t trump state-level OSHA law, which means crews filming outside of California, in a state not governed by federal OSHA laws, may not have adequate safety protections.

Types of Injuries

Among injuries that have been reported, falling is one of the top risks. Crew members have fallen from scissor lifts, scaffolding, and ladders, suffering serious and fatal injuries. Technicians and special effects workers have suffered burns from chemicals and pyrotechnics, and in one accident in which two workers sustained serious burns, neither had been wearing hand or face protection while working with an explosive mixture.

An OSHA spokesperson told a reporter for Deadline in 2015 that the TV and film industry is known for “corner cutting” and for telling injured workers not to report their injuries. OSHA has made similar statements in its investigations of construction and manufacturing companies that failed to provide safety protection equipment for employees.

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