Safety on Australian screen productions requires an industry-wide response

In the wake of a tragic workplace accident in the US, Screen Producers Australia CEO Matthew Deaner says safety on local sets comes down to a united effort.

Our rich history of screen content covers all aspects of Australian life, reaching into the diverse everyday experiences of our society, the ups and the downs, life and death, conflict and resolution, the day to day and the out of this world. So it is therefore inevitable that screen content will address situations of risk and peril, and will do so in the most realistic way possible.

This means that producers, in putting together the on-set arrangements that recreate life’s risks, are experts in how to create an illusion of danger, whilst ensuring the highest standards of safety.

The Australian production community is a big and diverse place, and the majority of us have made the considered decision to come together to develop and adhere to rigorous and exhaustive safety guidelines, under the Screen Producers Australia (SPA) banner.

The National Guidelines for Screen Safety cover everything from slips, trips and falls to working at heights, drones and explosives. They tell you how to dive off a cliff, film underwater or fall from a height, all without putting safety at risk. They tell us who is responsible for assessing risk, for managing risk and for preparing stunts. They have been developed in cooperation with the union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), and reflect the decades of experience our producers have in carefully and successfully assessing, managing and mitigating the inherent risks of screen production.

The guidelines have been updated regularly since their inception in the 1980s and, importantly in a highly mobile industry which films across the country, provide a vital national consistency, complying with all states’ and territories’ Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) laws.

But we recognise the full value of these guidelines is only realised when all producers make use of them on all productions, not just SPA members. That’s why we’ve made them widely available outside the confines of our organisation, to try and ensure they reach into the margins of our industry. Working closely with MEAA we have rolled out an information-rich website which is available to the wider industry and the public.

Unfortunately though, as in many other industries, the exemplary safety record of the clear majority can be overshadowed by the reckless or negligent actions of a small handful of unscrupulous operators who cut corners and put the safety of everyday Australians at risk.

Given our commitment to safety, we have no time for practitioners who don’t uphold the high standards in the National Guidelines for Screen Safety.

Day in, day out, we operate in a way that safely manages the risks of screen work. This includes the routine use of firearms, under strict and exhaustive protocols. Tragedies such as that which occurred on the set of Rust stand out, not only because of the shocking and senseless loss, but also because of their rarity.

Here in Australia, the circumstances which lead to the tragic death of Johann Ofner, also due to an on-set firearm, only serve to highlight the importance of the National Safety Guidelines which, if properly followed can help to ensure these unfortunate circumstances never occur. Our submissions to the coronial inquest were that the parts of the Guidelines which deal with firearms be formalised into a Code of Practice and that there should be consistency across states in terms of the licensing and accreditation of theatrical armorers.

The Queensland Coroner is yet to hand down his findings, but it is worth noting that Johann’s tragic death was the first known firearm fatality in Australia’s screen industry since the inception of safety guidelines agreed by SPA and the MEAA in 1983.

There are also concerning reports from the US that safety procedures were not followed on the set of Rust. The possibility that these tragedies could have been avoided is heartbreaking for the entire industry and our thoughts are always with those families who have suffered such a terrible loss.

As producers, we exist to bring amazing stories to life on screen, but we must always do so in ways that protect and safeguard the lives and safety of our amazing cast and crew. The recent tragedy in the US highlights exactly what is at stake, and the responsibility we have as managers of a production to ensure the highest standards are always met or exceeded.

This is an enduring duty, and the obligation to ensure appropriate protections are in place will always require ongoing review and reassessment, and our industry is fully committed to this task.

Matthew Deaner is the CEO of Screen Producers Australia.


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