The Big Challenge of Workplace Safety on Film Sets

The Big Challenge of workplace Safety on Film Sets
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Workplace safety is a topic that has been discussed quite a bit in the past six months.  The Industry-Wide COVID-19 Return to Work Agreement has been finally been reached between the producers and the unions (the DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and the Teamsters.)  Unlike The Safe Way Forward document that came out in June, this agreement is an actual contract.

The contract is temporary and extends through April 30, 2021.  It has an enabling clause, which means the parties involved can renegotiate as circumstances change.

Here are 4 main points of the Return to Work Agreement that will affect workplace safety on set (the entire Return to Work document can be found here):

  1. Workers are not considered employees of a company until they test negative for COVID-19.

A negative result on a pre-employment, lab-based PCR test is required for employee status.  A positive test result means the person is not considered an employee, even if they have already been offered a job on the production.

  1. Testing frequency varies by zone.

Zone A, crew working around mask-less performers, requires 3 times a week testing at minimum, and one of those tests must be a PCR test.  Zone B, for crew not around the performers, has a once a week testing requirement.  Zone C consists of employees who are able to wear PPE at all times and are never closer than 6 feet to other employees for more than 15 minutes while working.  They’re required to be tested every 2 weeks.  Zone D, employees in offices or otherwise off set, has no periodic testing requirement.  No one can come to Zone A without a test within the previous 48 hours.

  1. You may be asked to sign a consent form.

The consent form means that you agree to be tested.  It is not a waiver of liability for the production company, but may be a waiver for the testing company.  You are entitled to receive your own test results.  You may also be asked to complete a health assessment survey and questions must be answered.  Daily temperature checks may be required by the employer.  The company can set the policy about which type of masks are required.

  1. You can now receive COVID-19 sick pay.

Employees can receive up to 10 days of COVID-19 paid sick leave per employer at a rate of up to $750 per day.  The payment is subject to pension and health contributions.  Sick leave can also be paid if a member of the employee’s household tests positive for COVID-19.  There are other eligible COVID-19 events that can be found in the original document.

Another item of interest in the summary of the agreement I received from the DGA has to do with the use of electronic devices for contact tracing.  Here’s what the summary states:

‘While the employees are on the job site, Producers may require that employees participate in systems that enable contact tracing, such as by means of electronic devices (e.g., phone apps or wearable electronic devices that track the movement or location of a person or detect when a person comes into “close contact” with another person). In the event that a Producer uses electronic devices for contact tracing, it may access information collected from those devices only for purposes of tracing individuals that the employee has been in contact with during working hours when there has been a COVID- 19-related event, or for purposes of managing and enforcing social distancing protocols.’

How we prevent any app or wearable device from accessing personal information on our phones is unclear.  I don’t know of anyone who has been asked to wear such a device or download an app, so I won’t comment any further until I see more information on this.

So the question is whether we are now completely safe on set.  Well no, we’re not.  However, union productions are committed to making sets as safe as possible for cast and crew.  But much relies on safety monitoring, enforcement and the COVID-19 Compliance Supervisor who’s overseeing that on set.  The crews themselves must also stay vigilant about safety at all times.  Non-union projects appear to be a mixed bag, with some jobs pursuing stricter enforcement of health and safety protocols than others.  I’ve heard of some very lax non-union sets, with P.A.s serving as compliance officers with little or no authority.

The industry unions are being pro-active in helping keep sets safe by offering online COVID-19 training courses. The soon to be released DGA version, is 20 minutes in length and is a required course for members to remain on the qualification list.  IATSE locals are instituting their own job specific courses.

Work may not be fun right now, but at least we have an agreement to work safely.  We’ll never be completely safe on set, but we can each dutifully follow the safety guidelines that have been set forth in the agreement.  That will improve workplace safety for everyone on set.

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