WHAT'S NEW - Update on 'Rust' fatality

Update on 'Rust' fatality

As the majority of readers will be aware, on October 21st 2021, Halyna Hutchins, who was Director of Photography on the Alec Baldwin film ‘Rust’ was fatally injured after a weapon was discharged on set. Since our previous blog on the incident there have been numerous lawsuits filed and information reported in the media as to what happened and who was to blame. Whilst police investigations are ongoing, Rust Movie Productions has received a citation for various safety failures on the production after an investigation by the New Mexico Occupation Health Bureau (OSHB). The production was given the highest possible fine of $136,793 (approx. £107,000) for the breaches.

Whilst a fatality of this nature on a production is thankfully rare, there are findings and conclusions from the investigation that apply to all productions, irrespective of type, size and budget which we can, and should, aim to learn from.

Below is a summary of the investigations, conclusions and what productions can learn from those to help ensure that their own work places are safe.

Failure to follow Production’s own procedures and risk assessments

Whilst the production was aware of the hazard that firearms posed, the investigation report says they continually ignored guidance that they said they were following. It says that the production maintained they were following safety bulletins issued by the Industry Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee, in relation to the management of firearms, but they then failed to follow these. The report goes on to say that despite being present and observing some of the failures, management failed to respond to those.

In the UK, as part of the risk assessment process, you are required to identify the measures that should be in place to keep people safe in the workplace, and so following what you decide is necessary to keep people safe is crucial. Ignoring measures that you have identified as necessary to keep people safe increases the risk of incidents. In a similar vein if you are populating your assessment with generic measures you still need to follow those.

If you then observe noncompliance with those measures, management should respond to ensure that they are followed.

Failure to provide sufficient time to undertake work safely

The OSHB report says that sufficient time was not allocated by production to allow the experts to do their job properly, particularly around inspection of the weapons. Communicating clearly with your experts and HoDs as to the amount of time they require to undertake work safely, and ensuring that time is provided, is very important. Ultimately, if they don’t have the time to do their job safely the risk of errors and mistakes and the safety of the production as a whole is increased.

Failure to take safety concerns seriously

The report says that various concerns were raised by members of production to the Line Producer and UPM around several accidental discharges that were not followed up by the management team. Even though the producers reiterated that all members of the crew had a Stop Work authority and after a member of the team resigned citing these concerns as a reason, the report says they were not addressed.

All members of production should feel comfortable raising any safety concerns and know that those will be listened to and looked at. The importance of this point, particularly to the general safety culture within a production cannot be underestimated.

Failure to investigate incidents

The report found that after the second misfire incident, no investigation was undertaken beyond asking the person who was holding the weapon what happened, and no corrective actions applied. 

The importance of investigations after an incident or near miss in providing an opportunity to learn and improve on what measures you have in place can be easily overlooked or forgotten.

There is an understandable reaction to investigating an incident that people can be concerned that they will be blamed for, or uncover, some non-compliance, and that combined with time required to undertake one makes them unattractive. However, what productions can learn from these incidents, even very minor ones, can be invaluable in preventing a reoccurrence or a more significant injury at a later date. It also gives the production team confidence that safety is taken seriously

Conclusion

It’s often easy in an incident like this, particularly in the immediate aftermath, to jump to conclusions about how an accident like this comes about. Weapons obviously pose a significant hazard and can cause fatal injuries. However, this investigation makes it clear that the failure of the production management was a significant factor in this case.   Having competent persons managing high risk activities, such as armourers in this case, does not automatically make it safe.  Ensuring a good safety culture that includes that appropriate measures are in place and followed is also vital.

For more details on the New Mexico OHSB investigation and citations please visit this link OHSB Rust Workplace Fatality Investigation.