Health and Safety at Bad Wolf
The Health and Safety department is one of the very few on Film and TV productions that are present from its earliest planning stages right up until the show goes into post production. We spoke with John Fillingham from Anchor Risk Management to tell us about his unique role at Bad Wolf and what it takes to be able to work within this sector.
John works as head of Health & Safety, Medical and Covid services on behalf of Bad Wolf. John’s department is present throughout every single step of the production process; from design aspects, construction, some of the script elements, locations, right the way through to the end concept when the production is de-rigged and finalised. This is to ensure that all health and safety procedures are met throughout the entirety of a show. Although John heads up the department, he also has other members of his team taking care of different productions. In a company such as Bad Wolf, where multiple shows could be filmed at the same time, John delegates members of his team to head up each specific production, wherever that may be in the world.
John has been working with Bad Wolf for 3 years and has seen multiple productions go through every stage of the process. There is an enormous amount of satisfaction when a huge, grand set has been built and the H&S team can see the finished project, knowing that they were instrumental in enabling this to happen. All the hard work, negotiations, and toiling leads to a fantastic end product. This industry must adapt to the new regulations and ‘culture changes’ that take place on a regular basis. The thing that makes this industry different is the fact that there is an end product which is then seen on screen and the viewers may not realise just how much work goes into every single production and how many processes there are along the way.
Unfortunately, there can still sometimes be opposition to Health and Safety procedures due to certain outdated cultural attitudes or unaware of new working practices. It’s up to John and his team to have these discussions to say, “This is how it used to be done, and this is how the world does it now” and explaining the reasons for it. Fortunately, however, this is only seen within a small area of the industry with most productions understanding that the H&S guidelines are there to assist with filming rather than hinder it.
Health and Safety has always been there, but when Covid hit in 2020, the team had to bring in a different way of implementing these procedures whilst still enabling people to work. The Covid situation has been singularly the biggest challenge of John’s career of how to deliver this in the way that broadcasters, production companies, insurers, crew and artists can understand and implement as easily as possible.
Bad Wolf’s `A Discovery of Witches – Season 3’ was the first major production to come back after Covid hit (being one of the first in the industry to take on this mantel) with most people having been unemployed for a considerable amount of time at that point, so it meant the world to vast numbers of people that they could once again work. This also brought with it a lot of uncertainty about what could and couldn’t be achieved whilst working on the project. John needed to assure people that the H&S team was doing the best that they could to ensure peoples’ safety and health were looked after throughout filming.
Covid is still a factor within the Film and TV industry, but procedures have changed. The challenge with this has been the constant evolvement and learning process around legislative requirements, best practices and still delivering an end product. There is more than one element, not just the production itself (cast and crew) but also the broadcasters and the insurers who all want to influence how these processes may be implemented.
As a single subject, John has never had to deal with as many elements or groups of people all at the same time. Everyone is working towards the same goal, but they all have a different objective within that goal.
To work on a set as part of the Health and Safety team, you must have a number of core qualifications as a basic requirement. However, there is not one direct route into working within this sector. Each person brings with them their own unique set of skills that they have gained from their previous roles at different workplaces. These additional skills are incredibly useful when working in H&S with people from different backgrounds, each bringing something different to the role. The level of engagement is huge within H&S, so you have to make sure that you are able to interact with a variety of people and departments. Good Health and Safety is about mirroring the people you are working with. You must speak with people in their own language rather than talking to them in jargon, effectively getting across what you need to get across. There are still small pockets in the industry that think H&S are there to spoil what they’re doing rather than enhance it but it’s about not taking things personally - having thick skin is a definite quality needed in H & S. Humour also helps massively and being able to laugh it off. Determination and tenacity are also two vital attributes with working in this area. The ability to see something through, when you know that you are on the right course, even when you are met with some resistance.
Last month, we welcomed John and Terry to host a Health and Safety course in the Screen Alliance Wales classroom at Wolf Studios Wales. The course was specifically aimed at ex members of the Armed Forces and emergency services who are interested in utilising their skills from their previous roles and consider working in Film& TV production.
John and Terry started by discussing their own pathways into the role, with both being former members of the Armed Forces themselves. The attendees were then given a task to complete involving a scenario that they could face working in health and safety. The group also got to see first-hand what an average day for John and Terry would entail, with the studio being a perfect place to explore this. A major part of the role is creating and distributing risk assessments, so this was also covered within the session.
Thank you to John for telling us about his role at Wolf Studios Wales, and to both John and Terry for giving up their Saturday to lead the H&S course for us. To find out more about Anchor Risk Management please visit their website at: http://anchorrisk.co.uk/