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Long-hours culture leads to dangerous driving

30 July 2018

BECTU is asking all workers in film and TV to make their views known about the dangers of driving to and from work on long-hours productions.

This week the issue of ‘drowsy driving’ is being highlighted as part of the wider Eyes Half Shut campaign

‘Drowsy driving’ and why it’s lethal

Fatigue is a major contributory factor to crashes in the UK, with too little sleep radically affecting driver attention, awareness, reaction time and ability to control a vehicle. One in six crashes resulting in death or injury on major roads are fatigue-related, according to one study cited by Brake, the road safety charity.

Furthermore, research shows that one in five accidents on motorways are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel. Amongst BECTU’s own members 77% of respondents to the Eyes Half Shut survey said they felt unsafe at work, or travelling to and from work, because of fatigue. 

'Drowsy driving' is not only life threatening, it’s also bad for business. In the US alone, it is estimated that the effects of sleep loss on work performance may be costing employers some $18 billion in lost productivity.

Sign the petition to stop long hours

BECTU is campaigning to establish a formal commission with representatives from all of the industry’s main employers to address the long-hours culture in UK film and TV. Support our campaign by signing the Eyes Half Shut petition hereThis petition has already attracted over 7400 signatures.

Nia Hughes, organising official, said:

“The long-hours culture within the Film and TV industry which leads to dangerous driving is treated as ‘industry standard’ by employers. The reality of working in film or TV is that once you leave set or unit base, it is not uncommon for workers to be travelling for an hour or more. 

“BECTU is dedicated to using our agreements with Pact to establish a sensible working practice which enhances workers’ productivity and in turn will save productions money and ensure that the industry becomes healthy again. We want to build on our agreements, but it is also important that employers recognise that the problem of dangerous driving needs urgent attention. Employers need to start working with us to reduce the risks.”

Industry ‘norms’ for working days and travel

The majority of UK TV and film crew work at least 10 or 11 hour standard days (not including meal breaks). And if that wasn’t enough, in many cases, some departments are expected to do 90 minutes or more “prep and wrap” on top of the ‘shooting day’ and in addition to travelling time to and from home.

For ‘shooting crew’ this will often result in workers arriving home some 15 hours after they have left. For ‘prep and wrap’ departments, it can be significantly longer, with some workers in the Production Department reporting regular examples of them being at work (i.e. not including travel time) for 19 hours or more. 

BECTU members speak out

Speaking on condition of anonymity BECTU members offered the following observations on long hours,the effect on driving, and why they’ve signed the petition:

“I have often felt very unsafe to drive home from a studio after working a 16 hour day and have had near misses. I also have found that it’s taken me a few months to recover from jobs like that” - Anon

“In my job, I can be at work, or travelling to and from it for 16,18, sometimes even 21 hours a day. These hours aren’t the exception, they’re the rule” - Anon

“Six day weeks. Up at 5am, home at 8pm or later. Exhausted, depressed, ill, unable to spend time with family and friends. This is the reality of the film business” – Daniel

“A working day is the point you leave home to the point you return. I don't want to be unsafe on the roads, nor do I want to drive amongst others???. Exhaustion kills.” – Tom

Because we can't wait until someone dies again” - Toni

“I've worked on 25 hour shoots. I've done 20 hour days five days a week. On the last day I hallucinated my whole way home. Definitely not safe” – Oliver

“Often I don't feel safe driving home. Early on in my career someone told me to never use the headrest because you get so tired any respite will help you go to sleep” – Grace

Advice to members

BECTU advises members to ensure that productions understand, and acknowledge the full length of the day that crew are working – including ‘prep and wrap’ times, and journey times. Now that there are formal agreements for workers in TV drama and major motion pictures with budgets over £30 million, long hours should be even more obvious to employers.

Look out for these signs for when driving whilst tired:

  • slower reaction time
  • impaired judgment and vision
  • decline in attention to important signs, road changes and the actions of other vehicles
  • decreased alertness, preventing you from seeing an obstacle and avoiding a crash
  • increased moodiness and aggressive behaviour
  • problems with processing information and short-term memory
  • microsleeps—brief 2/3 second sleep episodes.

Union action on hours

For the first time in many years, BECTU has now successfully negotiated a standard working day of 11 hours, including a restriction on ‘prep and wrap’ to 30 minutes at either end of the day in the BECTU/Pact Major Motion Picture Agreement.

These hours are still unacceptably long, but the agreement forces employers to treat crew consistently, to always pay overtime, to protect rest breaks and to account for every hour worked.

The union has also negotiated a TV Drama Agreement with Pact, which gives greater certainty to production crew for all areas including day/night hours, rest periods, and travel.

Without agreements like this, crew have found it almost impossible to enforce the law on long-hours working. Similar agreements – particularly the Construction Crew Agreement – have given members a platform to successfully negotiate a reduction in the length of the working day.

"The new agreements mean that careless scheduling is more expensive for productions. BECTU members are already reporting evidence of scheduling being done more carefully. Some crew are being asked to work shorter staggered shifts instead of 14 hours+ days because of these agreements. However, the union recognises that there is a long way to go on this issue." Nia Hughes explained.

BECTU’s personal injury service will seek compensation where there is evidence of negligence giving rise to personal injury. BECTU urges all members involved in accidents caused by long hours to report them to the union’s solicitors, Thompsons, which is compiling a dossier of these claims. BECTU members should contact their official in the first instance.

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