Film union warns over safety risks to freelancers

The union representing workers in the media and entertainment industry has highlighted a change in health and safety rules that it says could have “a dramatic impact on the sector”.

BECTU highlighted recent press reports about the crew of ITV drama Broadchurch being criticised for taking unnecessary risks while filming on cliffs, which followed an incident in June in which Hollywood star Harrison Ford broke his left leg while filming a scene for a new Star Wars film at Pinewood Studios.

The union said: “With such attention being given to the hazards of film and TV production, it seems odd that a planned exemption from health and safety rules for most of the industry’s freelancers looks almost certain to be approved.

“The Deregulation Bill is due to go into committee stage in the House of Lords in October. If passed, it would exempt the UK’s 4.6 million self-employed workers from health and safety regulations, unless their industry or activity appears on a list drawn up by the Health and Safety Executive”.

“The HSE will review comments on the proposed list in September, which apart from activities like electrical work, diving and some elements of special effects involving gas or explosives, leaves out the entire entertainment industry”. 

“This has caused concerns for unions and employers as thousands of freelancers’ safety laws will no longer apply to the industry’s biggest hazards – falls from height, slips and trips, and accidents involving vehicles and moving equipment”.

“The prescribed list, which includes agriculture, construction and mining, omits the entertainment industry because of its low incidence of fatalities and injuries, which, according to the HSE, proves that there’s no need for legislation for freelancers”. 

“Without a legal health and safety responsibility on all workers in the industry, freelancers could be asked to cut corners, exposing themselves to unacceptable risks and causing dangerous confusion in the many situations where self-employed freelancers work alongside PAYE employees, who will still be covered by health and safety laws”.

BECTU said it hoped that employers in the industry would move from a dependence on general legislation to maintain safety standards, to a binding contractual obligation on individual freelancers to adhere to specific safety codes.

The union added: “This is in the employers’ interest, since their civil liability for any accidents remains unchanged, even if their self-employed workers are exempt”.

Palmers’ health and safety specialists can advise employers – and freelance workers – on their health and safety obligations and assist in drafting contracts that cover health and safety issues.

For more information on how Palmers can assist you with health and safety issues, or if you are facing prosecution, please visit the Palmers website or contact our health and safety specialists Lara Murray and Jeremy Sirrell.