Cinematographer Galina Hutchins’ accidental shooting by actor Alec Baldwin during the filming of the Western Rush is the latest in a series of fatal injuries that have plagued the industry for years.
A Los Angeles Times survey of U.S. government data and published reports shows that from 2010 to 2019, the most recent year for which data was available, at least 19 fatal injuries were recorded on film sets across the country.
Overall, there have been at least 47 fatalities out of 250 film-making accidents since 1990, according to figures provided to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which tracks serious accidents in the United States that have been reported to the agency.
Deaths and serious accidents in the film and television industry are generally rare due to the use of digital effects and improved safety protocols.
However, the industry struggled to improve its safety record and faced renewed scrutiny by the crew in the wake of the tragedy at The Rust.
The accident was another call for the industry to address longstanding complaints about unsafe conditions on set, including long hours of work. Members of the Rust crew complained of lax safety standards and tensions with producers ahead of filming, The Times reported.
Rust Movie Productions said it is cooperating with law enforcement investigations and “has not received any official complaints about the safety of weapons or props on set.” The company has since said it has hired lawyers to conduct its own investigation.
The fatal shooting sparked a response among film industry workers who held vigils in honor of Hutchins in Albuquerque and Burbank. Many recalled the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on a railroad overpass in Georgia in 2014 while filming Midnight Rider, another tragedy that rocked the industry and sparked calls for safer filming.
Among them was barber Joyce Gilliard, who was injured in a train collision that killed Jones and had to undergo reconstructive surgery after her arm was broken.
“The numbers are surprisingly shocking to me, because so many lives have been lost on set,” Gilliard told The Times. “So many families have lost someone…. One day they just go to work and never return home. Can you imagine this feeling? This is what comes to my mind. It’s just heartbreaking. ”
The number of film and television-related deaths declined steadily in the 1990s and fell to zero by 2003 as studios and producers intensified their security efforts and some risky gimmicks were replaced with digital effects.
The industry also remains relatively safe compared to other professions.
For example, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of fatal industrial injuries for all industries in 2019 was 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers. In the filmmaking industry, the rate was about 0.9 per 100,000 full-time workers, about a third lower over the past decade, according to an analysis by The Times.
According to the bureau, the level of injuries and morbidity was also lower than the average for all sectors of the economy.
However, the film and television industry continues to grapple with high-profile incidents, and as federal reports show, the death toll has increased over the past decade.
Some workers died in helicopters; others fell from scaffolding or were fatally injured in car accidents or were injured by heavy equipment – even a freight train and a military-grade tank. Some of them were about high-budget features, others were about low-budget features and low-cost reality shows.
Fatalities from propeller-driven guns are rare. The previous high-profile firearm-related fatality occurred in 1993 when Brandon Lee, the son of late kung fu star Bruce Lee, died from a rifle shot on the set of The Crow.
The rise in deaths has been attributed to several explanations, including an overall growth in the workforce and an increase in production that is fueling an expanding content pipeline for streaming services.
But authorities and safety experts also say the shortcuts taken by manufacturers to save time and money have also contributed to an increase in filming accidents.
“I am not surprised by the cuts in budgets, a tighter team, higher expectations for the bottom line, more injuries on set and more deaths,” said attorney Jeff Harris, who represented the families of the victims. Sarah Jones and stuntman John Bernecker in wrongful death lawsuits. Bernecker died on the set of AMC’s The Walking Dead in 2017.
The Federal Workplace Safety Data Survey is based on a 2015 investigation by The Times that highlighted the risks posed by the growing reality TV genre following a helicopter crash that killed 10 television workers in Argentina. Those fatalities that occurred during the French production were not included in the latest analysis of data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration because they occurred abroad. The Associated Press released similar findings about accidents on set in a 2016 report.
Overall, federal data show that the film industry has reported 47 deaths and at least 180 injuries that have resulted in workers being hospitalized, according to a survey by The Times. The data show that while the death toll has increased over the past decade, the number of accidents has generally declined.
The vast majority of accidents occurred in California, often in the Los Angeles area, including the high-profile helicopter crash in Acton in 2013 during the filming of the Discovery Channel reality show. Three people, including the pilot and the actor, were killed in the crash at the Polsa Rosa ranch. The case was not included in the OSHA database because it involved flights and was being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.
According to the agency, the use of aircraft and vehicles has been a common source of injury on set for many years, and the misappraisal or removal of safety devices were among the main “human” factors contributing to serious accidents.
The causes of death and accidents are not always clear in the OSHA classifications of inspections, many of which are documented as “other”.
Records show that the most common cause of accidents was falls of workers from high ground.
This is exactly what happened in 2010 in the case of the death of photographer Stuart Keane, who fell while filming a motocross race. Some of the safety rails have been removed to provide a better viewing angle for the elevator, which was not installed on a level surface. The elevator swayed and swayed, and Keane fell to the ground, the camera fell on his chest. According to federal inspectorates, he died in hospital.
Keane’s case resulted in a $ 60,000 fine against Lucas Oil Production Studios, which was reduced from the original $ 90,000 fine, one of the largest penalties ever imposed on film production by OSHA. A Times survey found that since 1990 fines for violations related to filmmaking incidents have totaled about $ 1 million.
Most recently in September, a 38-year-old crew member sustained critical injuries and was left to fight for his life after a major crash during the construction of the Netflix movie Time for Me, which starred Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. Angeles. The accident happened on the soundstage of the Netflix Sunset Gower studio in Hollywood.
Penalties, such as in Keane’s case, which are limited for specific workplace violations, are set by Congress and are intended as “incentives to prevent or correct violations voluntarily,” according to OSHA’s Field Operations Guidelines.
“While fines are not intended to punish violations, Congress has made it clear that the amount of fines must be sufficient to act as a deterrent for violations,” the manual says.
These fines were relatively small compared to the calculations and jury sentences handed down in film-making and fatal accidents.
In The Walking Dead, an Atlanta jury awarded the Berneker family $ 8.6 million following their wrongful death lawsuit. In 2017, the jury awarded Sarah Jones’ family $ 11.2 million. Midnight Rider director Randall Miller pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2015 in connection with her death.
“Any death in a safe, platinum-rated workplace is too many deaths,” said lawyer Chris Deacon, whose law firm Stewarts represented stuntwoman Olivia Jackson, who lost her arm during the stunt she was performing. for the 2016 film Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.
“If those who work on the set in any capacity are dying at the hands of the creative process, then something is fundamentally wrong in the production processes,” he said.