By Mary Ann Skweres
“It didn’t take an accident for all these people to come together,” says Lowell Moore, executive director of safety management at Warner Bros. Studios about the new Safety Pass program developed by the industry’s labor management committees and union business agents.
The improved safety-training program is designed to dramatically increase safety awareness and training of all studio employees involved in physical production. The program, which is mandatory, will train 47,000 union-represented industry workers (IATSE and Basic Crafts). It is administrated by Contract Services Administration Trust Fund (CSATF). An open house on November 20 at the new training facility in Glendale, California, formally kicked off the two-year training period set for the completion of member-required classes.
Speaking at the open house were Thomas Short, president, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Technicians (IATSE); Steve Dayan, Basic Crafts representative and instructor for the Safety Pass program; J. Nicholas Counter III, president and lead negotiator for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP); and Len Welsh, acting chief of California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CAL/OSHA). Also present were representatives from the DGA, IATSE Locals and Basic Crafts, as well as numerous studio and network executives.
Although the entertainment industry is one of the most safety-conscious, there have always been accidents. Increases in production and changes in technology have contributed to an increase in injuries. According to Dayan, “Management and labor may not always see eye to eye when it comes to contract negotiations but when it comes to the safety of production personnel, we are in complete agreement.”
The genesis of training for industry workers goes back to the 1950’s when the studios and unions agreed upon a roster system administrated by CSATF. The need for more training was never more tragically apparent than in the infamous 1982 Twilight Zone helicopter crash, which occurred during contract negotiations between the AMPTP and Basic Crafts. This sparked a new dialog with production personnel from all areas, including producers, production managers, camera, grips and electricians.
At the time, Counter realized that the experts on safety are those doing the job—the ones with the knowledge of work hazards and equipment. The Management-Labor Safety Committee was formed. Originally it consisted of representatives of labor and of labor relations departments from the studios and production. DGA, SAG and AFTRA representatives were added so that industry participation and input came from everyone working in production.
When Moore first joined Warner Bros. 13 years ago he had no idea how the unions worked with the studios. His mentor used an analogy: each studio is like a separate country. The craftspeople who come out of the union halls are like travelers, going from one country to the next. In trying to resolve why workers trained at Paramount would then have to repeat the same training at Warner Bros., he realized the need for a “safety passport.” Workers trained at one studio could have the “passport” stamped, verifying their skill in a particular area, and then present it to the other studios.
Even so, with the growth in the workforce brought on by a rise in theatrical production, plus the expansion of television with the addition of cable and new networks, the industry couldn’t keep up. CSATF needed a plan to accelerate training. Management and labor always had a mutual recognition of the concept but needed to agree on the application. The program had to satisfy certain criteria. It had to be standardized, it needed to meet requirements mandated by state law, and it had to pass muster with the various studio legal departments.
Dennis King, vice president of the AMPTP and chairman of the Labor-Management Safety Committee, along with his labor counterpart, Tim Wade, Chairman of the IATSE Safety Committee, set about creating a new plan to address this pressing issue, despite the enormous scale of the project. Developed under the guidance of CAL/OSHA, the Safety Pass program is a triumph of labor-management partnership. This new generation of safety-training is far more comprehensive than any offered to entertainment industry employees to date and continues to maintain a verifiable record of each worker’s training.
King first presented the concept of a viable industrywide training program to the head of CAL/OSHA in 1995. Speaking at the recent open house about the scope of the program, Welsh commented, “Little did I realize that those efforts…would lead to something as impressive as this.” Welsh also believes the program sets a good example for other industries on how government, management and labor can come together and figure out a way to get the job done—and it demonstrates to the public that the industry cares about its workers.
The training is necessary to meet safety requirements as outlined under Title 8 of CAL/OSHA’s regulations for all employers to provide training and instruction for their employees. It is paid for by the producers from a fund administrated by CSATF. For employees on the Industry Experience Roster (as well as members of locals with no roster), the training is required in order to remain eligibility to work in their classifications. Currently there are over 600 job classifications for IA and Basic Crafts.
Classes are given to individuals in every classification in the collective bargaining agreements, from rigging grips and welders to publicists and art directors. Working together, the CSATF board and studio safety executives have developed the classes. The curriculum uses standard training required by CAL/OSHA that is applicable to a number of industries. However some safety issues, such as those pertaining to stunts or effects, are specific to the entertainment industry. In these instances top production professionals have used their experience to develop specialized courses.
All of the studios and a number of industry vendors have donated materials and equipment for the classes. The state-of-the-art facility is not only suitable to handle the amount of trainees, but is also large enough to provide hands-on practice with all the different, specialized pieces of equipment necessary for a program of this scope and size.
The amount and nature of the required safety training varies for each employee, depending upon the individual’s specific job classification. For example, a carpenter will be required to receive more hours of safety training than an editor. A partial list of the types of training offered includes General Safety, High Fall Protection, Aerial/Scissor Lift, Scaffold Erection and Dismantling, Bloodborne Pathogens, Respiratory Protection, Noise Exposure, Insert Cars, Camera Cranes, Welding and Cutting. The timeline for training will give preference to the most hazardous crafts. Senior instructor William Blake says Local 80, representing grips, and Local 44, representing construction, effects and properties, are the first locals scheduled. Basic safety training classes are currently being offered. Classes are available 6 days a week from 7:30am to 9:00pm.
UPM’s and AD’s
Under a separate agreement with the DGA Training Plan, the program will also provide safety training to over 2,500 unit production managers and assistant directors represented by the DGA. Already other industry groups such as NABET have expressed an interest in training their members.
The program, born from the belief that one accident is one too many, took ten years to get to this point. Asked whether anything’s lacking in the program, IATSE’s Short comments, “From where I sit, it’s been covered from A to Z. I think it’s going to be a lot safer for our people.” The first expanded classes began in June 2003 and will continue through May 2005. Following completion of this initial effort, the program will train new employees and perform maintenance training on an ongoing basis. New job-specific classes will be developed and implemented as new safety issues and regulations arise. Moore’s next expectation for his brainchild is to produce professional safety videos, and he is looking for volunteers to bring this new vision to fruition.