Safety Is No Accident

Letter from America / Steven Poster ASC

Safety Is No Accident

Letter from America / Steven Poster ASC

Steven Poster ASC, president of the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600, says well-being of the crew, both on and off-set, is of paramount importance, and shares details of ICG’s free Safety App.

We work in a dangerous industry. That’s a simple statement of fact. From a small mistake of dropping a heavy piece of equipment on someone’s foot, to the death of a beautiful, spirited young woman dying on a train trestle because the producers lied about having permission to be there, we are in danger every day of our working lives. You could be working on a simple, no stunts, no obvious danger production, but there is always the potential for accidents to happen.

For many of us, there has been a newly-energised emphasis on safety after the tragic death of Sarah Jones. Even though Sarah’s death was completely avoidable if the producers hadn’t lied to the crew, if somebody had just said, “I don’t think this is safe”, then the situation might have been questioned by the rest of the crew. Then there are those on our sets that would say, “Oh come on! Let’s just do it and get out of here.” How smart is that…?

Many of us still believe in cinematic immunity. “Don’t worry. That will never happen to us. We’re filmmakers.” This is usually a problem of younger, less experienced filmmakers who really don’t know the rules.

As a cinematographer and president of the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600, I’ve had a long history of being aware of the dangers we face every day. In fact, one of my first jobs as a DP at Universal Television was on a short-lived series called Class Of 65. I caused an older grip to fall and break his arm, just because I wanted to go faster with a camera on a Western Dolly on a running track behind North Hollywood High School. When I realised the danger I put that man in, I was appalled and dismayed how unconscious I was about safety. I vowed that I would never knowingly put any of my crew or cast in untoward danger no matter what the situation.

We all have to have the right to say no. But how difficult is that when you are an island, alone, surrounded by production people and even crew saying “Come on. Just do it.”

I’ve only had to shut down two shows in my career where I felt the situation was unprepared and poorly thought out. One case was because I thought the working conditions were not safe on an open highway, with no police controlling traffic. And one was because I thought that an explosion was dangerously close to civilians watching the stunt. But those two times taught me a valuable lesson. WE ARE ALL SAFETY OFFICERS ON OUR OWN SETS. If you see something, say something. Our beloved show business isn’t worth the loss of life or limb… ever!

"By using the App to report unsafe hours, hazardous working conditions or other on-set problems (all of which will be handled confidentially), our members not only give our reps the chance to quickly come out, but also to set things right."

- Steven Poster ASC

One condition that has grown increasingly more dangerous is working longer periods than is safe. Unfortunately, this has been demonstrated time after time with accidents driving home from consistently long days on a set. Insufficient break times between work periods. We call it “unsafe hours”.

It’s for these reasons that The International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600 of the IATSE, has developed what we call our Safety App. This App is available free-of-charge on both IOS and Android platform at both App stores.

Obviously, the App’s phone numbers will not be useful out of the USA. But what is useful are the Industry Safety Guidelines, which are embedded in the App with no need to download. These were developed over years to guide us in all of the dangerous work we are likely to perform. These guidelines are full of useful and essential information that you might want to check out before they are needed.

We take great pride in a resource like the ICG Safety App and its many features. Originally conceived of largely as a means of providing static information, the App has evolved and become a powerful tool for two-way communication, which our members are discovering and using every day.

By using the App to report unsafe hours, hazardous working conditions or other on-set problems (all of which will be handled confidentially), our members not only give our reps the chance to quickly come out, but also to set things right.

The App also contains a Workplace Harassment and Discrimination section with the Local's Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Policy, and studio hotlines to report harassment and discrimination. Local 600 is committed to ensuring all our members work in an environment conducive to their health and safety.

We will be glad to help any group around the world wanting to develop their own App. Remember, safety is not an accident.