With the 2013 awards season recently wrapped up, the limelight is on the Academy Award-winning films, actors, actresses, and directors who walked away with the coveted Oscar trophies. However, the behind-the-scenes workers who make these movies possible are just as crucial to a film’s success—as well as those responsible for making sure that everyone working on movie sets goes home safe and healthy each day.

Margaret Buckalew, MPH, a member of the Georgia Local Section of the American Industrial Hygiene Association® (AIHA), is one of those safety professionals. In her role as a safety supervisor during the production of several feature films, Buckalew serves as a voice for anyone working on a movie set.

“My job is making sure that the crew feels comfortable coming to me in confidence about anything they’re concerned about, and that they feel that I have enough support to get things fixed,” said Bucklew.

The quickest route to the nearest hospital

Buckalew’s work involves visiting all the locations where filming is taking place to gauge what needs to be done in terms of safety. This includes coordinating specific emergency action plans and tracing out the evacuation route, the quickest route to the nearest hospital, and identifying shelter-in-place locations.

“The largest part of my role is working with management to assist them with the development and administration of their health and safety programs,” said Buckalew.

Behind-the-scenes safety concerns on film sets include the need for fall restraints and protection from potential hazards related to special effects and stunts.

Explosions and detonations

“I’m always on set for explosions, detonations, and large special effects. Pre-planning, including risk and hazard assessments and rehearsals, has occurred long before the day a stunt is scheduled to be filmed. [The cast and crew] will generally have one last safety briefing and dry run before they actually film a stunt.”

According to Buckalew, the movie industry’s safety culture is generally effective. In Los Angeles, Calif., the Safety Pass Program was established by the Motion Picture and Television Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee to address the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s requirements for employee training and training documentation.  The Safety Pass Program helps limit the liability of production companies and ensures that workers have been properly trained in industry-wide general safety training. 

Buckalew believes that for a production company, the true worth of health and safety professionals is in their ability to anticipate potential safety issues and formulate solutions that prevent problems from occurring for production.

Additional Information:

?Safety on the Movie Set: The Role of Safety Professionals in the Film Industry - For more information, read the online-only article published in the March 2014 digital edition of The Synergist®, featuring an edited transcript of an interview with Margaret Buckalew, MPH, a senior consultant with Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a provider of environmental, health, safety, risk, and social consulting services in Atlanta, Ga.