Not worth dying for

Another deadly February has gone by in the North American film and TV production business. Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old assistant film director, was killed on a location shoot in a Georgia rail yard on February 20, a year after John Driftmier, a 30-year-old Canadian reality TV director was killed in a plane crash on a shoot in Kenya. February 2013 was also the month 46-year-old cameraman Darren Rydstrom and two others were killed in a helicopter crash during a reality TV shoot in California.

factual_risky_creditThese tragic events have focused attention on the dangers of working in film and TV production. Unions and production workers across North America are urging their members and colleagues to follow safety protocols and speak up about dangerous situations.

But for people working on non-union productions, which include virtually all fact-based and reality TV programs, speaking up during production does not seem like a real option.

The Guild has been talking to people about their experiences with unsafe work in factual TV and the reality is deeply troubling.  It is not often clear who is responsible for safety and what the safety plan is during a production. Meetings are almost never held with the crew to discuss and prepare for possible hazards and safety training is non-existent. Industry veterans whose skills are in high demand and who often learned about safety on union sets can sometimes say no. But several workers who dared to speak up told us they have been ignored or, worse, let go.

The most common safety hazards may seem mundane but lead to injury and death:

–     driving after long hours of work
–     inadequate safety equipment
–     lack of planning and communication.

In the survey conducted by the Canadian Media Guild last summer, 31% of factual TV workers reported working in situations that were unsafe while 37% witnessed situations that were unsafe for others. For the workers who go on location shoots, the figures are much higher: 54% have worked in situations that were unsafe and 59% have witnessed situations that were unsafe for others. Among those who have expressed concerns about working conditions to someone in charge, 37% reported feeling targeted for speaking up.

We are preparing a report on safety for producers, as well as provincial and federal governments who are partners in the industry as funders and regulators.

The Guild is continuing to collect stories from workers in order to bring about systemic changes that improve safety in factual TV. You can write, in confidence, to Karen Wirsig ( or call 416-578-1651. We will protect the identities of those who share their stories with us.

Listen to an interview on CBC’s Q show with Peter Driftmier, John’s brother and CMG’s organizing Staff Rep, Karen Wirsig.

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