The issue of selecting a safety expert in any area is always a decision that’s important to get correct; within the highly specialised world of film and TV which can often be multinational projects the decision is increasingly complex with many “experts” available.
What Kind of Expert:
The first question is what you specifically need in your safety expert – this may be a safety advisor/consultant in most cases – however in some specialist cases you may get more benefit from hiring an expert in that field as opposed to a pure safety consultant/advisor.
Examples may include Experts in Mountain Rescue, Local Guides, Security Consultants or Rigging Experts – in many cases these can sit alongside a more specialised safety expert.
Film and TV are highly specialised environments in terms of the artistic demands, the technical infrastructure and the highly contractorised nature of the workforce. It is not as simple as hiring an expert and leaving them to understand the industry.
Ideally in a client’s shoes I would look for people I’ve had recommended, who have a record in the industry – having identified my short list I would then use the definition of competence above to choose between them.
It’s important that safety qualifications and expertise are considered alongside industry knowledge. In many countries safety within film and TV has become a sub set of the stunt industry rather than a field for pure safety professionals. This can be a good thing on a stunt led production but it has meant that people with no specific training in health and safety have set themselves up as experts – and they may be experts in relation to stunts but a film or TV production has many risks and safety issues beyond the pure stunts.
So look at what defines competence in the country in question – in the UK for example the government through the HSE has established a consultants register; http://www.oshcr.org that allows you to search for competent safety professionals; Australia has established a Certificate IV in Occupational Health and Safety – each country has its own safety body – check any expert against these criteria.
Any film or TV will be made in a country or possibly several countries. It is important that the Production remembers that safety law whilst based on universal principles does change from country to country – or indeed in some less developed world may have no law with regards to safety.
It’s important you have an expert who recognises the need for solid foundations and core principles but can also read and understand local law – or who knows where to locate English translations of that law.
Equally working in less developed nations doesn’t suit every personality – find those with experience of such nations who understand the complications and demands.
Employing a safety expert does not remove a Producer or 1st ADs responsibilities; it should be there to help them meet their responsibilities through support and expertise.
The actual responsibilities a safety expert takes on to a degree depends on what you agree with them – they can take on specific responsibilities and duties beyond simply advice providing that’s agreed in advance and they are given the authority to deliver on those agreed responsibilities. For example I have several times ran the whole safety for a major TV show – however that show gave me the authority to sign off or to demand better props, rigging, design etc. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can delegate responsibility without the power to carry out that responsibility.
TV and film are fun environments on a good day; everyone wants to work in TV and film; but they are also highly emotional and high pressure environments – make sure the consultant has the personality to fit – they need to be hardy, thick skinned and strong as well as flexible in their approach. TV and film make demands unique to that industry – laws are rarely written with film or TV in mind hence law and best practice need interpretation and invention to fit the industry – find the consultants who understand that.
The general concepts of selecting a Safety Consultant are discussed in related articles and provide more background information on broad competence as opposed to the industry focus here.