Hollywood health and safety: how dangerous is stunt performing?
On-set stunts have long attracted audiences to the silver screen, with Hollywood blockbusters relying on expensive explosions, elaborate car crashes and action-packed chase scenes for an extra hit of adrenaline.
But a spate of on-set deaths involving stunt performers last year has film fans and industry insiders asking questions about the safety the stunt profession.
In July 2017, stuntman John Bernecker died on set of TV show The Walking Dead after suffering head injuries in a fall. Just a month later, stuntwoman and road racer Joi “SJ” Harris was killed in a motorcycle incident on the Vancouver set of Marvel movie Deadpool 2.
“It’s a terribly fine line when it comes to guaranteeing safety, because in reality there is no guarantee,” says stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong.
From pilot Art Scholl, who lost his life during the filming of Top Gun, to Daniel Radcliffe’s stunt double David Holmes, who was paralysed on the set of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, stunt artist accidents, injuries and deaths have plagued some of Hollywood’s best known work.
Though film industry statistics are hard to collate, it is estimated that between 20 and 40 people worldwide are killed or seriously injured during a film production each year.
“Film sets are inherently dangerous,” one producer tells The Telegraph.
“Even when it’s just a scene of two people walking across a set, there will be tremendous amounts of electricity, hot lights, ladders, heavy suspended equipment, power tools and trip hazards like cabling and carpentry everywhere.
“If you’re talking horror or thriller genres where the public always demands more thrills than ever before, you can add in weapons, explosives, chemicals, loud noises, cranes, helicopters. Factor in the constant time and money pressures, the fact that nearly everyone is freelance and working on a temporary structure, and it’s actually surprising more disasters don’t happen.”
How can production companies manage stunt risks?
As well as adhering to stringent occupational health guidelines, projects should only use artists approved by the Joint Industry Stunt Committee Register. Specialist entertainment industry insurance can also play a significant role in managing stunt risks.
It is commonly assumed that restrictions enforced by insurers make things difficult for productions. In 2006, action star Jackie Chan publically proclaimed, “There are so many safety and insurance rules to follow.... I know they want to make sure that I'm safe when I do my stunts, but sometimes they insist that I use protective gear for even simple things, and that is frustrating.”
While producers will often avoid major risks to stop premiums from swallowing filming budgets, it is rare for a script to be changed by insurers, who will generally underwrite each stunt individually in “stunt buyouts” - arranged separately from the film’s cast and liability policies.
"There's always a way to get things insured," said Shel Bachrach, president of Los Angeles-based Bachrach & Associates Inc, who says the London market is much friendlier towards dangerous stunts.
Insurance for performers
Often working as freelance performers, stunt artists can protect their ability to trade with personal accident insurance. Specialist cover is available for performers, providing financial support in the event of an insured accident which prevents them from working.
Watkin Davies Insurance Consultants Ltd are always ready for action when it comes to insuring unusual professions. Whether you are undertaking a project using stunt artists and in need of entertainment insurance, or want to make sure you have best possible stunt performer insurance available, get in touch with our industry experts today. Call us on 02920 626 226 or email email@example.com