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Sun 24 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Safety comes first

Whether its crocodiles on the Nile or Dubai traffic, shooting a film on location always involves a degree of personal risk.

Whether filming crocodiles on the Nile or the traffic jams of Dubai, shooting on location will always involve a degree of risk to the safety of those involved. When electrical equipment, a team of people working to a deadline and the natural elements meet, care has to be taken by each individual present.

However, the ultimately responsibility for the welfare of that team rests with the person or company that engaged them. With any accident potentially derailing a production, leaving the risk management to luck is not an advisable option. Moreover, the prohibitive cost of facing legal action is something that should be avoided if possible.

Measures to manage risks involved in a production begin at the initial project planning stage: devising appropriate health and safety procedures and designating responsibility for its implementation to the right personnel may not be the most glamorous aspect to the movie industry, but it is as much part of the process as casting, filming and marketing.

Anticipating potential dangers in advance and allowing for adequate planning for resources is infinitely preferable to reacting to problems as they arise and using valuable resources troubleshooting during filming. Therefore, before personnel are hired and the budget is fixed, the decision-makers on the production team should evaluate the risk of accidents when considering more core business issues.

The producer will have to identify what specific potential hazards are relevant, whom they may affect, how serious the risk is and what procedures might be implemented to protect against such risk. If necessary, specialist advice must be obtained at this stage so that a well-informed assessment is made of how to run the production.

Key to such planning is ensuring that the project in question has been sufficiently funded and that the money has been allocated to the right resources. Filming in extreme weather conditions will, for example, require more robust equipment and more stringent safety checks than a studio shoot. Shooting in certain locations will require emphasis on security and crowd control; and where children or animals are involved, someone should be appointed to assume responsibility for their welfare and ensure that the location is even more secure than normal.

Specific attention should also be paid to filming in hazardous areas or circumstances such as filming on moving vehicles or beside traffic, on or near water and at heights. This may require special training and safety procedures as well. Similarly, it is important to ensure that those involved in the shoot have the requisite knowledge and experience to carry out the work safely.

Once the risks are identified, there are many precautionary steps a producer can take to reduce the risk of misfortune. Procedures of safe working practices should be drawn up and communicated to the relevant personnel and staff should be appointed to implement them.

Other arrangements such as the appointment of the crew members, hiring equipment and obtaining permission to shoot in locations should address where the duty of care of the producer stops and where the obligations of those other parties to contribute to safety on the production begins.

When matters are agreed verbally on a handshake basis, they only deal with the basics of the parties' agreement. Areas such as warranties of quality and obligations to work safely are not covered, yet these peripheral matters may determine the success of a project or even the future of a company.

The key to addressing the issue of risk management in employment contracts or agreements with contractors is to inform the other party of the risks involved and the applicable safety procedures, and allocate responsibility for looking after themselves and their fellow crew members to a substantial degree.

While it may be the producer's job to anticipate and manage risk, a minimum of common sense and safety consciousness should be demanded of all involved in the filming. A well-drafted contract will prevent the producer from being held liable for the mistakes of others. In particular, the crew members should be obliged to learn and abide by the health and safety procedures prescribed by the producer.

These requirements must be made part of the specifications of the services they provide in order to be paid. This will also have the effect of protecting the producer against claims by crew members if they did not follow procedure.

Longer-term measures may require mandatory training for personnel to further protect the company and strengthen the individuals' competence in this area. For example, a contract engaging a lighting technician should place emphasis on that person's responsibility for checking that his equipment is in good order and that it is set up safely.

It is all very well for the producer to take preliminary precautions but if the lights have exposed wires or are lying in water, it is not unreasonable to point a finger at the person who was negligent in creating that dangerous situation. The contract must clearly state where the producer's duty of care stops and where the crew members assume their own obligations.

Similarly, the providers of equipment must also be bound to take responsibility for faults in the form of warranties and indemnities; likewise, the owners of premises should be bound to give representations as to the site safety as part of their fee.

The producer should be able to assume that the equipment or premises meet a certain standard. This should be agreed to in writing as the responsibility of the supplier in question. It is, however, not always open to the producer to place responsibility upon the individual: in the case of concerts and live music performances, the promoter typically assumes responsibility for the safety and welfare of the performing artists.

One further method of managing the risk factor is to take out an insurance policy, but the producer's responsibility should not end with paying the premium.

With any insurance policy, there are limitations to the cover provided: not only will it limit the various causes of loss or injury that can be recovered, but it should be borne in mind that insurance companies take time to process claims and pay out, which will delay production and probably jeopardise the entire project even if much of the losses are eventually recovered.

Prevention of health and safety problems on productions is definitely more cost-effective than a cure.

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