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Accident & Health

A man is trapped in a metal cage, suspended above a freezing lake. From above, 30,000 cockroaches are released onto his head and they crawl all over his skin. If he screams, he will not be allowed to eat the following day. It sounds like a cheap horror novel, but is in fact just a few minutes of entertainment on the latest series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, a British reality TV show.

The show is still popular some 13 years after its debut and is one of many programmes that meet the viewing public’s appetite for voyeuristic and risky content. It looks like the thrill-seeking genre is here to stay, meaning film and TV producers must walk the fine line between satisfying their danger-hungry viewers and looking after the people involved in the programme.

And on top of this, they are under pressure to produce more exciting content on tighter budgets, as they compete for audiences with self-filming internet sensations on YouTube.

“In a lot of cases, the production has to make something that the audience is happy with, so they really want to take risks, but at minimum cost,” says Arjen Van Dun, commercial director, accident and health corporate and affinity for Europe at ACE. “I see limited budgets and I fear that they are not even aware of the full risks.”

It’s a that dynamic Bob Parr, a risk management adviser on The Amazing Race for ten years, has witnessed first hand. Now owner of risk management company SO3 Projects, Bob warns of an ‘unholy triangle’ of available budget versus the creative premise, balanced against the experience of the people making the show.

“Celebrities don't think deeply enough about risk”.
Arjen Van Dun
Manager accident and health

“There’s a tension between your responsibilities as a producer, your duty of care responsibilities to these people having put them there, and the requirement for visceral and immersive content. Risk management exists right on the very cusp between that essential tension,” he says.

Filming outdoors and on location adds an extra layer of uncertainty. The risk becomes more acute if a TV show is filmed in front of a live audience and even more so if celebrities are involved. “Celebrities who want to participate to increase their popularity would accept a high risk and don’t think deeply enough about their risk,” Arjen says.

He adds that producers have a duty of care, which goes beyond obtaining a signed liability release. “You need to inform them and they need to think about potential disability. Are they really aware of the kind of risk they face?”

The same applies to the production crew. “There are bright people who want to get out there and make a name for themselves. That can have a very negative impact on the effectiveness of the management of risk if they’re dismissive or obstructive,” warns Bob.

But in the thrill-seeking genre, programme makers may need to keep some real risk to maintain authenticity. In that scenario, the focus shifts to being able to deal rapidly with an emergency.

“You have to ensure you have the most robust measures in place to deal with the consequences of a negative outcome,” says Bob. “If there’s still a possibility of someone getting hurt, you need a team on hand for emergency treatment or evacuation. It moves to crisis management.”

Assessing the risks

Although the perceived risk in action films is higher, in reality it is lower because the stunts are carefully planned and engineered, often shot out of sequence. Arjen says: “The productions with big budgets also have budgets for their insurance and risk programmme.”

Nonetheless, movie makers and their stars have run into problems, particularly when filming their own stunts. Actress Isla Fisher nearly drowned when filming an underwater magic trick for the movie Now You See Me. “Everyone thought I was acting fabulously. I was actually drowning... no one realised I was actually struggling,” she said. A nearby stuntman realised what was happening and used a quick-release switch.

When something does go wrong, it can be difficult to pick apart where responsibility and liability fall. Arjen says: “Several parties are involved in the films and TV shows people see. There’s the network, the producer and the participants, and in a lot of cases external companies that support the producer.”

Although contractually producers may agree to accept all liability, legal action is likely to include everyone involved in the production. Bob says: “Any smart attorney will identify as many potential causes of litigation as they possibly can. They will sue the network, production company and contracted risk manager. Who’s ultimately responsible is one of the great challenges for the industry.”

“Ensure you have the most robust measures”.
Arjen Van Dun
Manager accident and health

This was exemplified when Michael Donatelli, a cast member of a military show being produced for network Discovery, was killed in a helicopter crash during a night shoot, along with cameraman Darren Rydstrom and pilot David Gibbs.

A lawsuit for wrongful death was brought by Michael’s wife and 15-year-old daughter against Discovery, the show’s producers, and Crossbow, the company that owned the helicopter. And even if a show’s producers do accept liability, a network’s reputation could still be tarnished by negative publicity following an accident, warns Arjen.

The best way to avoid it is to embed risk management as early as possible, not only when planning, but also on set as things change. Bob advises: “Start at the top with an assessment, continue to an analysis, make recommendations, and implement them. You should then have some kind of a feedback to the top of that process. If you don’t do that, it can’t possibly be a process.

“There are 10,000 different ways to manage risk, because there are 10,000 different activities.”


1. Develop a crisis management plan

Planning helps clarify roles and responsibilities to avoid wasting valuable time. “Businesses need to be organised in case an unexpected event happens, because there’s no space for improvisation,” says Dorothée Prunier, environmental risk manager for Continental Europe at ACE. A crisis management plan should be specific to each company, with checklists created to ensure nothing important is missed.

Social media has increased the time pressure to act and changed the general requirements for communication. Prof. Dr. Thorsten Hofmann at Advice Partners says: “The highly dynamic nature of these new communication channels has enormously accelerated the dissemination and range of negative information. Short reaction times and successful crisis behaviour are challenges that must be mastered in all sectors today, especially when it comes to environmental risks.”

2. Maintain an active crisis manual

Once you’ve developed the plan, the theory needs to be put into practice to see if it works. This can be done by using a simulation or a desktop exercise, running through the plan and making sure all the right people are in place. Practice might not make perfect, but it helps to improve preparation and confidence to deal with an incident.

“The key to these simulations is to see what did and didn’t work, looking at how to correct it and making it more efficient,” says Dorothée. “During those situations, stress is a huge factor and so it’s about making sure those involved deal with the pressure in an efficient way.”

3. Training is key

Training should cover all vital aspects, such as health and safety and environmental control. A comprehensive training programme should be put in place and if the business model changes, so does the need for the crisis plan, particularly if new members of staff have joined. Dorothée says: “Training sessions should be held on a regular basis because companies have a natural turnover of employees and they need to be aware of the procedures in place.”

4. Keep an audit trail

You should be prepared to provide internal audit evidence that you have taken all the steps you could have been expected to in order to contain an incident. “From theory into practice, it’s important that things are fluent – and so it’s key to have a track record of what didn’t work and what can be improved,” says Dorothée. “When you have new commerce, directors and investment, this should trigger additional work to make sure everything is maintained and doesn’t disrupt the crisis management plan.” 

5. Draft and approve external communication statements in advance

During a stressful period, it’s beneficial to have external guidance. Thorsten advises that there are certain crisis communication rules when drafting a statement. Do not communicate too hastily, produce positive statements and avoid terms such as ‘crisis’, ‘accident’ or ‘catastrophe’, using ‘incident’ and ‘event’ as an alternative.

“We strongly recommend preparing language rules/a statement or, even better, a crisis communication manual because you will not be able to handle all activities directly and personally yourself during and after a crisis. Developing various options for action systematically can only happen in advance in times without crisis.

“It will support your effort to prevent possible reputation damages to your company and can turn a crisis into an opportunity by demonstrating appropriate and intelligent behaviour during the crisis.”

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