CHAPTER 10. LAWS AND REGULATIONS
A wide variety of federal, state and local agencies administer laws
and regulations on health and safety that apply to motion picture and
television production. In addition, in case of accident, various parties
can be subject to lawsuits if negligence is involved. This chapter will
discuss the most important of these laws and relevant government
Employers are required by the federal Occupational Safety and Health
Act of 1970 (OSHAct) "to ensure as far as possible every working man and
woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions". The
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal agency,
the responsibility for administering OSHAct, issuing standards on health
and safety, and carrying out inspections to enforce the regulations and
law. OSHA can fine employers who do not comply.
Coverage of OSHAct applies to all private employers and their
employees in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and
other U.S. territories. In 23 states with OSHA-approved state plans,
has delegated its authority to enforce OSHAct. Once federal OSHA has
adopted a regulation, these states must adopt a comparable standard
6 months of the publication date of a final standard. These states
include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky,
Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina,
Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Virgin
Islands, Washington, and Wyoming.
Rights and Responsibilities
Under OSHAct, employers are responsible for keeping a hazard-free
workplace, knowing and obeying OSHA standards, informing employees about
OSHA and their rights, keeping appropriate records, informing OSHA of
fatalities and 5 or more injuries requiring hospitalizations, posting
citations, and abating citations.
Employees are responsible for following employer health and safety
rules and OSHA standards, wearing required personal protective equipment,
reporting hazardous conditions and accidents to their supervisor, and
cooperating with OSHA compliance officers.
Employees have the right to see copies of applicable OSHA standards,
to request information on hazards and precautions, to request OSHA to
an inspection if it is believed there are hazardous conditions or
violations of OSHA standards, to have his or her name kept confidential
when filing an OSHA complaint, to have an authorized employee
representative present during inspections, to have access to monitoring
medical records, and to not be discriminated against for exercising these
The general duty clause of OSHAct states that each employer "shall
furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment
are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause
death or serious physical harm to his employees." This general duty
can be used by compliance officers when there is no specific OSHA
OSHA also promulgates and enforces specific health and safety
standards. Depending on the situation, different OSHA categories of
standards could apply. If large scale work is done (e.g. constructing a
multistory building), then the OSHA Construction Standards (CFR 1926)
apply. Otherwise the OSHA General Industry Standards (CFR 1910) apply.
OSHA standards cover such areas as emergency plans, fire safety,
machine guarding, flammable and combustible liquids, spray finishing,
welding, sanitation, toxic and hazardous substances, etc. Many of the
hazards in motion picture production would not be covered by OSHA
standards. In such instances, the general duty clause would apply.
Note that CalOSHA (the California state OSHA plan) has regulations
requiring that employers have a written Injury and Illness Prevention
Program. This program must have the following elements:
* Identification by name of persons responsible for the program;
* A system for ensuring employee compliance with the program;
* A system to ensure communications with employees about health and
issues (e.g., a labor/management health and safety committee);
* A system and procedures, including periodic scheduled inspections to
identify health and safety hazards;
* A procedure to investigate occupational illnesses and injuries;
* Procedures for correcting unsafe or unhealthy conditions, work
and work procedures;
* Safety and health training for employees and supervisors; and
* Record-keeping and documentation of the program.
In addition, CalOSHA considers motion picture production a high
OSHA standards are available from local OSHA offices (see Appendix
Toxic and Hazardous Substance Standards
Subpart Z - Toxic and Hazardous Substances of the OSHA standards
lists the Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) for several hundred
(CFR 1910.1000). These PELs were recently revised, mostly to reflect
changes in the Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) of the American Conference
Governmental Industrial Hygienists. Prior to this revision, most PELs
based on 1968 TLVs. The PELs are legal standards.
TLVs are defined as "airborne concentrations of substances and
represent conditions under which it is believed that nearly all workers
exposed day after day without adverse effect." One problem with TLVs for
many chemicals is that the manufacturers of those chemicals had a major
in the TLV development. As a result there is considerable controversy
the adequacy of the resulting TLVs. In addition, they do not protect
sensitive workers. In order to apply the numerical TLVs (or PELs), there
must be air sampling to determine the concentration in air of that
In addition to the PELs, Subpart Z has specific standards for many
hazardous substances, including asbestos, lead, cadmium, formaldehyde,
many other carcinogens.
Hazard Communication Standard
The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard applies to all employees in
the United States who are exposed or potentially exposed to hazardous
substances at their workplace. The purpose of the hazard communication
rule is to ensure that the hazards of all chemicals produced or imported
are evaluated, and that information concerning their hazards is
to employers and employees by means of comprehensive, written hazard
communication programs. Such hazard communication programs must include
container labeling and other forms of warning, material safety data
and employee training.
OSHA has the right to inspect any workplace without advance notice.
There are several types of inspection: 1) imminent danger; 2) fatality
multiple injuries; 3) valid employee complaints; 4) special emphasis
programs (targeted at high risk industries); and 5) random inspection
The OSHA inspector can issue citations and penalties for violation
OSHA standards. These citations usually give an abatement date for
correction of the violations. The size of the penalty depends on the
seriousness of the violation, which includes de minimis, nonserious,
serious, and imminent danger violations. The citation and penalty (or
of same) can be appealed by the employer, employee or union.
Record-keeping and Reporting
OSHA requires that all employers keep records of occupational
illnesses and injuries resulting in death, one or more lost workdays,
restriction of work or motion, loss of consciousness, transfer to another
job, or medical treatment (other than first aid). Each such injury or
illness must be recorded on OSHA No. 200 - Log and Summary of
Injuries and Illnesses and on OSHA No. 101 - Supplementary Records within
days. By February 1 of each year, the employer must fill out and post
at least 30 days the summary part of OSHA No. 200. As of 1991, motion
picture production is excluded from this reporting, except in California.
If an on-the-job accident results in the death of an employee or in
the hospitalization of 5 or more employees, all employers must report the
accident in detail to the nearest OSHA office within 48 hours.
Voluntary Compliance Program
OSHA funds a voluntary compliance program, usually operated by the
state departments of labor. Under this free program, a voluntary
compliance officer will conduct an inspection of the workplace at the
request of the employer, and make recommendations for correction of any
hazards. As long as the employer is working with this program, OSHA will
not make an inspection. The voluntary compliance program does not report
to OSHA any violations found, except in cases of imminent hazard which
could involve death or serious injury. Appendix 2 lists the voluntary
compliance offices in each state.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
established by OSHAct to conduct research on occupational health and
safety, to provide technical assistance to OSHA, and to recommend
for OSHA to adopt.
NIOSH can make workplace investigations as part of this research.
can require that employers measure their employees' exposures and provide
medical examinations of employees (at NIOSH expense). NIOSH also
NIOSH provides technical assistance to employers and employees.
Employers or three or more employees can request a Health Hazard
if they suspect that health hazards exist in the workplace. NIOSH will
come in and conduct any air monitoring and medical examinations
In addition, employers can request a Technical Assistance inspection,
is a more limited version of the Health Hazard Evaluation.
NIOSH also provides information to employers and employees upon
request and has a wide variety of literature. See Appendix 3 for a list
WORKERS' COMPENSATION LAWS
Most employees in the United States are required to be covered by
state workers' compensation laws. These laws provide a variety of
for job-related injuries and illnesses, including benefits for medical
expenses, wage replacement, loss of limbs (or their use), rehabilitation
and survivor's benefits in case of death. These laws vary from state to
Workers' compensation is a "no fault" insurance system, meaning an
injured employee can collect without having to prove it was the
fault. In addition, the injured employee can collect benefits even if
injury was his or her fault. In return, the employer is protected from
lawsuits for negligence. Thus workers' compensation is the sole remedy
injured employees with respect to their employer. (See the section on
Liability for information on lawsuits against other parties besides the
What Is Covered?
Injuries are covered under workers' compensation if they are job-
related. The usual requirements are that the injury result from an
accident arising out of and in the course of employment. The actual
does not have to occur on the job site. For example, a car accident on
road during a delivery for the employer would be covered. Accidents
occurring during travel to or from a remote filming location might be
covered, depending on the state.
Occupational illnesses may also be covered. The extent of coverage
and what illnesses are covered varies widely from state to state. In New
York State, the illness does not have to be solely caused by something on
the job, but the job has to substantially contribute to the illness. A
classic example of a compensable occupational illness is contact
from exposure to chemicals.
There are usually statutes of limitations for filing claims for
occupational diseases. In New York State, a worker may file a claim for
to 2 years after becoming aware that the disease was caused by the job.
Illnesses may also be covered under workers' compensation if they
would only occur because of the nature of the job. For example, a heart
attack that occurred while filming in the desert might be compensable if
the heat was a primary factor.
An injured employee has the right to file a workers' compensation
claim with the state workers' compensation board if he or she thinks the
injury is work-related, whether or not the employer agrees. If the
employer does not think the injury or illness was work-related, then the
employer can challenge the claim.
There are a variety of ways to be covered under workers'
compensation: private carriers, state funds, and self-insurance. State
laws vary widely in the types of carriers permitted. Some states have an
exclusive state fund, which is a non-profit agency that provides workers'
compensation insurance for employers. Other states allow private
companies (e.g. Travelers, Fireman's Fund, Liberty Mutual) to provide
workers compensation and have non-exclusive State Funds which must
coverage to employers. New York State allows private carriers, and has a
State Insurance Fund. Large employers often have self insurance, meaning
they cover themselves for workers' compensation benefits. Of course,
plans have to meet state regulations.
The premiums for workers' compensation insurance is paid entirely by
the employer. The premium size depends on the company's experience
This depends on the number of workers' compensation claims that have been
filed by the company and on the average for the industry.
FIRE PREVENTION LAWS
Most fire codes and building codes do not have specific sections
regulating motion picture production. In most instances, standard
regulations are applied. There are a number of authorities regulating
hazards at the federal, state and local levels.
As mentioned earlier in this chapter, OSHA has a number of
regulations concerned with fire prevention. If a state has an approved
state plan, then OSHA regulations are enforced by the state. The
regulations in the Occupational Safety and Health Standards For General
Industry, 29 CFR Part 1910 are:
CFR 1910.38 Employee emergency plans and fire
CFR 1910.101,102,104. Compressed Gases, Acetylene,
CFR 1910.106 Flammable and combustible liquids
CFR 1910.107. Spray finishing using flammable and
CFR 1910.157 Portable fire extinguishers
CFR 1910.158 Standpipe and hose systems
CFR 1910.159-163. Fixed extinguishing systems
CFR 1910.164,165. Fire detection and employee alarm
CFR 1910.252. Welding, cutting and brazing.
CFR 1910.307. Electrical-Hazardous (classified) locations
State and Local Fire Regulations
Most states do not have specific fire regulations, but some provide
uniform guidelines for local fire departments. In California, the
California State Fire Marshal has developed and published the Film
Industry Fire/Life Safety Handbook. This provides excellent guidelines
which can be adopted by local fire departments. These guidelines could
also be applied in other states.
Municipalities and counties, however, normally promulgate and
fire regulations. Local fire departments issue needed permits. They can
inspect the site for fire and life safety hazards, including emergency
escape for employees and public, operation of fire protection systems,
department access to buildings, use of flammable liquids and gases,
pyrotechnic special effects, etc. (Chapter 5 contains a fire/life safety
inspection checklist of possible hazards on the location.) The fire
department also can carry out periodic inspections.
Local fire departments are also responsible for issuing permits for
special hazards, including special effects, refuelers, tents,
Fire departments may require standby fire personnel at all filming
sites. In California, for example, reasons for requiring fire standby
personnel can include presence of the public at the filming site, limited
exiting, pyrotechnics special effects, use and refueling of aircraft,
filming in areas of high fire risk, filming in remote areas where
time of the fire department may be too long, and tents which are occupied
by 500 persons or more. The California State Fire Marshall recommends
such standby personnel should have two years' experience as a full-time
firefighter, completion of a fire inspection practices course, and basic
knowledge of pyrotechnics special effects laws and regulations.
Insurance companies will usually require that production companies
meet certain minimum standards of fire protection before insuring the
company. In many instances they will inspect the location before issuing
Cities, towns, counties, etc. have local laws and regulations.
can cover such areas as filming permits, traffic regulations, sanitation
and other health requirements, use of firearms, air pollution, building
codes, etc. Many of these regulations are enforced by the police
departments or similar public safety organizations. Others may be
by various city agencies, including health departments, building
departments, etc. A filming crew might have to interface with several
agencies to get all needed permits. In many instances, cities and states
have set up special film commissions to help with the various permits
needed. An example is New York City's Mayor's Office of Film, Theater
Many lawsuits have occurred as a result of serious injuries and
fatalities resulting from motion picture production. These lawsuits
negligence on the part of one or more individuals or companies, which
resulted in the injuries. Many such lawsuits have resulted in
dollar awards or settlements. The awards are for conscious pain and
suffering, medical expenses, lost past and future earnings, and, in some
cases, for punitive damages. The increasing number of such lawsuits due
escalating numbers of injuries has resulted in drastically increased
Who Can Be Sued?
As discussed above, if an employee is injured on the job, he or she
cannot sue the employer (or other employees) - even if their negligence
caused the accident, since workers' compensation is the sole remedy for
employees. The injured employee, however, can sue independent
(individuals or companies) whose negligence was a cause of the accident.
For example, in injuries involving stunts or special effects, an injured
performer or camera operator might be able to sue the special effects
coordinator, stunt coordinator, and director since they are usually
independent contractors in motion picture production, but could not
directly sue the production company (their employer). As a corollary, an
independent contractor (e.g. a stunt coordinator) who is injured can sue
the director and producer (or their companies). Therefore, in
liability, an important question is who is the employer, and who is an
employee or independent contractor.
Whether a person is an independent contractor or employee does not
depend just on how he or she is paid. The crucial test is the degree of
control the individual has over the details of his or her work. For
example, a director who has complete control over how the film is made,
including timing, locations, choosing personnel, etc. is an independent
contractor. Similarly, so is a special effects coordinator who brings
or her own equipment, who decides where and how everything is placed, and
has his or her own assistant.
A precedent that, for example, directors or producers who are
employed on a film through a loan-out company may be independent
contractors and not employers, was established in a 1986 California court
decision involving director Hal Needham and his loan-out company
Inc. Needham and Stuntman, Inc. were sued by stuntwoman Heidi Von Beltz,
who was left a quadriplegic by a stuntcar crash during filming of
"Cannonball Run" in 1980. The jury held that Von Beltz and Needham were
not co-employees because the director had been employed on the film
production through his loan-out company, and awarded her 4.5 million
dollars for her injuries. The California Court of Appeals upheld this
decision in 1988.
Major lawsuits have been filed in many film accidents, including the
1989 deaths of 5 people from a helicopter accident during filming of the
Chuck Norris film "Delta Force 2" in the Philippines, and the 1989 death
stuntman Clint Carpenter during filming of "Hired to Kill" in Corfu.
other cases have been settled out of court. For example, the families of
the two Vietnamese children killed in a helicopter scene during filming
"The Twilight Zone" in 1982 reportedly received two million dollars in an
Although rare in the past, criminal prosecutions of employers in
workplace fatalities are increasing where it can be shown that the
deliberately withheld knowledge of the hazards from employees, and
to implement precautions. This increase in criminal prosecutions is also
result of court decisions that OSHAct does not override state criminal
The most famous criminal prosecution in the motion picture industry
is the charges of involuntary manslaughter against Director John Landis
and four associates, including the helicopter pilot and special effects
coordinator, after the 1982 deaths of Vic Morrow and two children during
the filming of "The Twilight Zone." They were charged with involuntary
manslaughter, but were acquitted on the basis that it was an accident,
no one could have predicted the helicopter crash.
With the advent of the Safety Bulletins developed by the Industry
Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee, and campaigns for health and
safety programs developed by unions and other organizations such as the
Center for Safety in the Arts, future criminal prosecutions could focus
around issues of what type of health and safety program was present, how
did the producer evaluate the risks of a stunt, and what precautions were
California State Fire Marshall Film Advisory Committee. (1988). Film
Industry Fire/Life Safety Handbook. California State Fire Marshall,
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (1989). Occupational
and Health Standards For General Industry, 29 CFR Part 1910. OSHA, U.S.
Department of Labor, Washington.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (1989). Occupational
and Health Standards For Construction, 29 CFR Part 1926. OSHA, U.S.
Department of Labor, Washington.