When shooting on location safety is alway a major consideration. Every location has hazards and safety issues even before you pull any gear out. Production Health & Safety isn’t meant to be scary. The point of having sensible H&S measures in place is to keep everyone safe. The purpose of this article is to get you thinking about ways you can protect yourself and everyone while on a location shoot. Use your common sense, do your research, be prepared and you’ll have a happy crew and a safe shoot.
Isn’t Health & Safety Just Common Sense?
A great deal of it is. But common sense can struggle to prevail on a film set when you are losing light or the talent is looking at their watch or even the weather is closing in. When everyone is tired towards the end of the shoot is also a major concern for safety.
The line of responsibility for safety runs from the Producer to the Production Manager and on to all crew members. Everyone has a duty of care which is recognised by law.
When filming, even simple things can become dangerous which is because a film or video set is not an ordinary situation, people have many things on their minds, things can get rushed and risks can increase.
It’s a three step process to keep everyone safe
- Identify all the hazards
- Evaluate the risks
- Identify measures to control the risks
Any location can be packed full of safety hazards, but when shooting this becomes more of an issue because people are concentrating on the shoot rather than their surroundings.
Everyday location hazards
- Electrical – risk of electrocution. In Australia all electrical items on set must be Tested and tagged as safe annually.
- Heat – Hot light can cause severe burns. Be careful when handling lighting after it has be used as it may be very hot.
- Tripping hazards – Move or gaffa tape down cables and objects that could be tripped over.
- Lifting hazards – Go carefully when moving or lifting heavy or dangerous things. Or even better get someone to help you.
Outdoor shoot location dangers
- Fall danger – Uneven ground, tree roots, props and equipment all present a trip hazard so be aware of fall danger and compensate accordingly.
- Local animal life – snakes, spiders, and ticks are very real threats when shooting outdoors. Knowing what kind of wildlife you will be sharing the environment with is very important.
- Vehicle danger – Know whether or not there are moving vehicles or roads around the set and be sure to account for that.
- Water – Increases lots of risks. Extra carefull of slip hazards. Also water will increase issues of electrical safety and may eve present a drowning risk.
- Tides or swell – always know what the sea is doing. Swells have the potential to change rapidly and a rising tide can leave you stranded.
- Proper footwear and clothing – All crew must come prepared for the environment that you are shooting in which could include rocks, sand, snakes, creepy crawlies or poisonous plants.
- Structure dangers – Abandoned buildings, barns, and old industrial sites can make for really interesting locations, but can have dangers like unstable footing, falling beams, nails, broken glass, syringes and any number of animals in nooks and crevices.
Extremes of weather are one commonly overlooked hazard. If you are filming outside all day, it is essential to make sure the crew are dressed appropriately. A lot of the time you may be standing around and people will get cold very quickly even in what seems quite mild weather. Layers of clothes are best, and get everyone to bring waterproof coat and a hat – they keep out wind as well as rain and are invaluable. And don’t forget to protect the camera from the rain too!
Sunburn and heatstroke are other outdoor hazards. Always have high protection sunscreen on hand and put it on. Wear some kind of sun hat or stay in the shade when possible and make sure lots of water is available to drink. In Australia and at higher altitudes, even people who have a high sun tolerance will burn quickly. I generally opt for something sweat resistant with at least an SPF of 30. Another reason for sunscreen is to stop the actors’ appearance changing drastically during the shoot and messing up the continuity.
On a typical outdoor shoot here in Australia in summer, the temperature can hit 40 degrees celsius (over 100 degrees F) so we consume gallons of water and slather on several bottles of sunscreen. This means everyone goes home able to work the next day.
Rushing to finish in time is when hazards get missed, and people start taking risks to get the shoot done. If this starts to happen, take a moment to think of how to lighten the work-load: can you cut out some shots or set ups to give you the time to get the most essential stuff shot without a panic? Or can you come back tomorrow or another day to finish the shoot?
And the very minimum you should have a first aid kit with you. Anything can, and often does, happen on set. Headaches, bug bites, cuts, sprains, allergic reactions, the list is endless.
One final thing I would recommend, know the location of the closest hospital or emergency room and consider downloading a Weather App.
Beware : Working areas that pose an increased safety risk:
- At heights – you need fall protection
- In confined spaces
- Under water
- In aircraft
- Special rigs
- Moving objects or vehicles
For any of these shooting situations you should carefully plan the shoot, take into account any special laws and safety requirements that these have and use appropriate caution when shooting.
Don’t forget local knowledge is invaluable when filming on location. Getting home in one piece safe and sound, ready to do it all again the next day is what everyone on a crew needs. Happy Shooting!