Lights, Camera, Safety!

Seton Canada

Television and movie production is a vibrant industry in Ontario and health and safety is always in the spotlight.

Like any job site, TV and movie sets have their own share of dangers.

Making them safe is the prime directive of crews and producers alike.

It’s something to think about when those Oscars are awarded Feb. 24 because they all came from a production shot on sets and locations somewhere and every one of those shoots was set up with health and safety top of mind.

There’s additional pressure because an incident means a production will be shut down for the duration of the Ministry of Labour investigation, and in the movie business, time is always money. Crews and talent are contracted for a specified time period and any delays could risk the outcome of the entire project.

On set risks include:

  • working from heights
  • suspended objects like lights
  • electrical wiring
  • cables
  • ladders
  • platforms
  • lifting accidents
  • trucks
  • and sometimes more exotic issues such as explosives and firearms used in special effects

The National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET700CEP in Toronto)  represents crews on sets. Some are also represented by other unions such as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IASTE Local 58 in Toronto). All stakeholders, including ACTRA, sit with Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA) as reps on a Ministry of Labour Ontario Section 21 Heath and Safety committee.

NABET 700 Business Agent, Jayson Mosek says there’s a good working relationship on the committee because everyone realizes the nature of their task and how important safety is on set.

“We really just check the politics at the door of these meetings,” he said.

There are also a special set of rules under the MOL governing film and TV production because it is a unique workplace, says Mosek.

They consist of 43 guidelines covering everything from working with explosives, child performers on set, helicopters, underwater stunts to hair and make up.

“I think the MOL acknowledges it is in fact a different world,” he said. “And they also acknowledge the industry has done a fairly good job of taking care of itself and regulating itself for a number of years.”

The guidelines also cover non-union productions and as always they’re a set of rules and guidelines which set minimum standards for safety on set.

In movies generally special effects and stunts, are among the highest risk activities accounting for about half the incidents thought Toronto hasn’t had issues. When shows call for the use of explosives and firearms, the rules and regulations are so tight and scripted – and the briefings intense and structured to leave nothing to chance.

One of the unique challenges is that almost everyone on set is a freelance worker. Whether they’re a grip, a stunt performer, actor, director or camera operator, they’re usually self employed and swing from one production to the next.

“These productions also roll in and roll out a pace as well so it’s not realistic to give safety training under OSHA or WMISS because they aren’t employees,” Mosek said. The result is the unions pick up a lot of the load for safety training of their members.

As usual on any job site, there’s the start of shift safety talk, outlining what the day’s jobs are going to entail, what stunts may be set up and executed, what lighting is going to be suspended and what set up and tear downs will be needed, all with a reference to safety.

But, he said, the standard bugaboo of every jobs site reigns supreme: Slips and falls.

“Honestly though the biggest issues are the basic slip and fall, whether it’s icy paths or the stairs to the craft truck (food and refreshments) or the honey wagon (restrooms).




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