Filmmakers’ Fine Highlights Behind-the-Scenes Safety

railroad crossing

A recently decided court case involving the first day of filming the movie “Midnight Rider” spotlights an industry not always associated with health-and-safety requirements. The film industry.   

In this case, a 27-year-old camera assistant was killed and eight other crew members injured in 2014 after a train slammed into a scene set up without permission on active railroad tracks spanning the Altamaha River in Jesup, Ga.

The train crashed into a bed frame that was placed on the tracks, and the shrapnel struck and killed Sarah Jones. CSX Transportation owns the trestle bridge.

Now Film Allman must pay $70,000 for a workplace safety violation after a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the fine (See my story Filmmakers Fined for Flouting Safety Rules in Fatal Train Accident.)

train tracks

This follows the 2015 conviction of three of Film Allman’s management employees for criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter in Wayne County (Ga.) Superior Court. Director Randall Miller pled guilty and served one year of a two-year sentence. The others received probation.

An attorney told Bloomberg BNA that although big studios and production companies tend to be consistent with safety measures, new and independent media companies may not be as aware of them.

With the rise of YouTube and other ways to share films, small-scale productions are becoming more common. Undoubtedly more safety situations will arise.

Questions remain for a rapidly changing film industry, such as whether producers of new media are aware of safety and health requirements. Will these new media producers avail themselves to safety training programs? Can OSHA or Cal/OSHA effectively enforce standards and requirements on new media sets?

Cal/OSHA learns of incidents on small productions through complaints, accidents and referrals, an agency spokesman told me. 

The story is far from over.

--By Lars Hedberg