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6 August 2014

Location and on-set incidents grab headlines as industry change looms.

Film and TV health and safety has been in the news recently, just as concerns in the industry mount over a change to the rules which could have a dramatic impact on the sector.

Crew filming the second series of ITV drama Broadchurch were recently in the news after being criticised by coastguards for taking 'unnecessary' and 'silly' risks filming on the cliffs. Images show the crew perched just inches away from the edge of East Cliff, in West Bay, Dorset, which is more than 150ft high. This was followed a month later by news that actor Harrison Ford had injured his ankle when a part of the set fell on it during the filming of the newest Star Wars film, resulting in a thorough and insightful article in the Telegraph on the dangers of working on set. 

Deregulation Bill

With such attention being given to the hazards of film and TV production, it seems odd that a planned exemption from health and safety rules for most of the industry’s freelancers looks almost certain to be approved.

The Deregulation Bill is due to go into committee stage in the House of Lords in October. If passed, it would exempt the UK’s 4.6m self-employed workers from H&S regulations, unless their industry or activity appears on a list drawn up by the Health and Safety Executive.

The HSE will review comments on the proposed list in September, which apart from activities like electrical work, diving and some elements of special effects involving gas or explosives, leaves out the entire entertainment industry. 

Freelancers facing hazards

This has caused concerns for unions and employers as thousands of freelancers' safety laws will no longer apply to the industry’s biggest hazards – falls from height, slips and trips, and accidents involving vehicles and moving equipment.

The prescribed list, which includes agriculture, construction and mining, omits the entertainment industry because of its low incidence of fatalities and injuries, which, according to the HSE, proves that there's no need for legislation for freelancers. 

The industry responded by arguing that the good safety record in film, TV, theatre, and events is the result of effective management and procedures which have been introduced precisely because current health and safety laws cover the increasingly freelance workforce.

Without a legal health and safety responsibility on all workers in the industry, freelancers could be asked to cut corners, exposing themselves to unacceptable risks and causing dangerous confusion in the many situations where self-employed freelancers work alongside PAYE employees, who will still be covered by H&S laws.

BECTU speaks out

BECTU, which has spoken out against the planned exemption since it was first proposed in 2012, and hopes that employers in the industry will move from a dependence on general legislation to maintain safety standards, to a binding contractual obligation on individual freelancers to adhere to laid-down safety codes.

This is in the employers’ interest, since their civil liability for any accidents remains unchanged, even if their self-employed workers are exempt.

If the industry doesn’t take steps to maintain its strong health and safety record, it could find itself getting even more publicity in the future, and all for the wrong reasons.

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