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A movie set turns into deadly unsafe working environment

In a developing story that has as many twists and turns as a Hollywood movie plot, the movie industry is investigating the death of one of their own.  A young woman working on a production crew was recently killed when a train rode down the tracks where they were shooting. Now local investigators and national agencies like OSHA and the NTSB are looking into the work accident and whether it could have been prevented.

North Carolina, along with many states, puts a large value on the ability to lure show business to the state for filming. The productions can contribute to the local economy, as well as provide publicity. But none of these locations want the negative publicity that comes with a terrible accident on the job during the movie shoot.

After the tragedy the conditions on movie sets have again become the subject of criticism within the industry, as well as curiosity from the public. One previous accident that brought attention to these conditions was an accident in 1982 when a helicopter crashed on the set of “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” killing actor Vic Morrow and two child actors. The director of that film, John Landis, and four others working on the film were charged with manslaughter but acquitted.

Those who work in the industry report that the work environment on a movie set is similar to other industries that often come under scrutiny by agencies such as OSHA. One documentary called “Who Needs Sleep?” analyzed the long hours film crews are required to work, many under similar conditions as have been alleged on this set. Fourteen-hour days are not uncommon in the movie industry, leaving many sleep-deprived workers to operate heavy machinery and make decisions while fatigued.

It remains to be seen whether any criminal charges will be filed in this case or whether the government agencies will fine the production company for any violations.  But the family of the young woman killed has already retained an attorney and a lawsuit is expected to be filed.

Regardless of whether a workplace accident occurs on the set of a Hollywood film or on a factory floor, the victims and/or their loved ones may be entitled to compensation. Perhaps the result of this investigation can also set an example for future safety on movie sets and other workplaces.

Source: New York Times, “Death Raises Questions About On-Set Safety,” Michael Cieply, March 23, 2014

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