Monday, July 6, 2020

Adriele Fugal on how to Work Safely on Film Sets During the Pandemic

Adriele Fugal, MSPH(c)
Public Health Safety Specialist
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced states in the U.S. and countries around the world to shut down for months as the virus has spread globally like wildfire with no regard to national borders, social bounds, political systems, or cultural values. Major industries were advised to have their employees work from home as a mitigation effort to slow the spread of the virus in order to avoid overwhelming hospital beds and avoid unnecessary deaths, especially among our most vulnerable population: older adults.

While some industries were able to have their employees work remotely, other businesses were hit hard by the shutdown, including the film industry. It is estimated that 120,000 people have lost their jobs in Hollywood due to COVID-19, while 50,000 people will be losing their jobs in the United Kingdom. The film industry has also suffered a $4 billion hit at the box office and is expected to lose even more money from stopped productions. To top it off, most insurance companies exclude any coverage of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, painting a scary picture for the future of film and television production.

keeping her set safe!
So, is it safe to work in film sets during a pandemic? It can be! And I will show what you can do to make film sets safe for the cast and crew while helping the film industry get back to doing what it does best. When I started working as a Public Health Safety Supervisor I did a lot of research to understand what the best measures would be to follow to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on film sets. I spent a good amount of time reading everything I could find from many well known and reputable organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). I also spent many days getting certificates related to COVID-19 from top-notch universities, the CDC and WHO, so I could feel prepared and capable of providing the most recent, up to date guidelines to my clients, and the best services to the people I was trusted to keep safe. And that is how I was able to be the first person in the state, or perhaps even in the nation, to develop COVID-19 guidelines for film sets, which I shared with the Utah Filmmakers™ Facebook group, and has since been replaced by the Utah Film Commission guidelines

So now, after working on over a dozen productions during the pandemic, here is my take on how film productions can work safely on film sets today:

  1. Hire a Public Health Specialist that has abundant knowledge of epidemiology, infection disease and control, and disease outbreaks, like myself, to advise your production during the pre-production phase, and make sure that all safety guidelines are being followed during the production.
  2. Have a Public Health Specialist create, manage and implement a Covid compliance program, especially for longer productions or productions with a large number of cast and crew.
  3. Make sure that the person you hire is up to date on COVID-19 information. As more research is done, more information becomes available. Guidelines might change as we learn more about the disease. As an example, masks were not recommended to the public a few months ago, but we learned that they are actually very effective in preventing the virus from spreading.
  4. Hiring a medic to do the job on set is fine, but being certified to work as a medic doesn’t automatically qualify them to know the best procedures and guidelines for sets. Whoever you hire should have the proper knowledge and training in COVID-19 specific procedures for film sets.
  5. Because COVID-19 related claims aren’t covered by production insurance, it would be advisable for producers and companies to have cast and crew sign a mandatory liability release waiver. The production should state in this document that they are doing everything in their power to prevent the spread of infection on set, and all involved should be required to follow safety guidelines put in place. Setting this expectation in advance will give the cast and crew peace of mind.

While I, as a public health professional, cannot warrant 100 percent that no one on set will ever get sick, I can assure you that by following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our state, and those widely accepted by the film industry we can effectively minimize the spread of COVID-19 on sets, while giving everyone the feeling of safety and care.


The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and—especially where guest posts are concerned—do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Utah Filmmakers™ Association, its officers and/or associates.

Utah Filmmaker(s)™ and UFA™ are trademarks registered with the Utah Department of Commerce Division of Corporations and Commercial Code, Registration Numbers 10706542-0190 , 11025542-0190 and 10502093-0190 respectively.