Health and safety for production companies – what to be aware of

United Kingdom

Health and safety in the film, theatre and broadcasting industries is of paramount importance as the industry involves various high-risk activities such as stunts, special effects, working at height and the use of heavy equipment. Like other employers, film and production companies have legal obligations towards employees and others affected by their work.

Recent statistics indicate that almost three quarters of UK film and TV crew surveyed feel that their safety or that of a colleague has been compromised at work, and more than two thirds had concerns regarding people being promoted to positions of responsibility without adequate experience or safety qualifications.

There have been a number of high-profile incidents involving production companies in recent years, ranging from claims for hypothermia and nerve damage from contestants after the filming of a scene for ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ at a Royal Air Force base in Bedfordshire, to the tragic death of a cameraman in 2017 while filming ‘Black Earth Rising’ in Ghana. The former involved an independent inspection after the medical incidents on set. While the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) reminded producers to plan properly for risk on the show, it ultimately decided no further action was necessary. In respect of the latter, a coroner’s inquest in 2020 found that shortly before the stunt during which the incident occurred, the risk to life was not ‘effectively recognised.’

Prosecutions of production companies by the HSE have in the past been rare, despite a Freedom of Information Request revealing that there had been approximately 160 non-fatal injuries on set, including falls from height, between February 2017 and February 2022. One reason for this could be because most of the workforce of production companies are employed on a freelance basis. This complicates identification of duty holders under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, as it is difficult to determine the entity that is the “employer” with duties to take reasonably practicable steps to protect people. However, on 24 November 2023 a production company was fined £800,000 and ordered to pay £14,752.85 in costs after a stunt performer fell 25 feet, sustaining life changing injuries, during the filming of ‘Fast and Furious 9: The Fast Saga.’ The HSE investigation found several failings, including limited risk assessments, a failure to address the potential issue of a rope snap or link failure and a failure to conduct six-monthly checks of the harness.

The HSE has guidance specific to the film, TV and broadcasting industry, which confirms that that there should be:

  • Defined responsibilities and duties;
  • A system for managing health and safety;
  • An assessment and management of risks; and 
  • Regular reviews of the processes and procedures for managing risk.

The guidance confirms that in most cases, the employer will be the producer or production company. For complex, hazardous or specialist productions, it may be prudent to outsource health and safety assistance to a competent specialist or consultant. It should be noted that if this route is pursued, the employer’s legal duties cannot be delegated, and competence must be assessed to ensure the assistance is sourced from someone with the requisite skills, knowledge, experience and training.

There is also a set of FAQs published by the HSE, addressing topics such as work at height, noise and secondary bonding which should be reviewed to ensure safe working practices are being maintained.

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 are also a consideration for film set constructions. The HSE has a worked example in this regard which is likely to be of assistance to those involved in work of this nature.

With recent calls for increased safety on sets, further guidance - and perhaps enforcement action - is expected from the HSE. In the meantime, production companies and employers of those in the film and TV industry are encouraged to review and update both the risk assessments made and the control measures in place as work progresses to ensure these are still effective. After the production, it is good practice to review the system of work in place to establish any useful lessons for the future.