Given the evidence presented, which was compelling, followed by the ensuing global pandemic there is a mental health crisis in the industry that has so far cost the lives of at least nine crew members over the last two years, that I am aware of. This is around 50% higher than the national average suicide statistics. (Office for National Statistics: ons.gov.uk, 2019)
As a Chartered Chemical Engineer, who through circumstance, fate and a touch of intrigue has fallen into working in film and tv over the last 10 years, I have tried to look at solving this crisis with my engineer’s problem-solving hat.
Early in my engineering career, one of the operators where I worked was unfortunately killed when he climbed into a Nitrogen inerted vessel for no apparent reason other than his desire to keep production on track.
An Engineer’s instinct is to work out how to prevent this happening again through both physical and psychological means. Since the 1980s the Chemical industry and others that have mainly reduced accidents to those caused by human error, have been looking at ‘Human Factors’ and behavioural techniques to prevent accidents.
Relating mental health to physical safety
One of the first steps that has been taken in the industry to address the problem is for the Film and TV charity to set up their fantastic helpline (0800 054 0000). Some broadcasters and production companies with the help of various organisations have trained, ‘Mental Health First Aiders’ or first responders. Workers trained to spot the signs of distress and signpost the person in distress to qualified help if necessary or simply to listen non-judgementally and talk with the person.
If we compare this with physical first aid the person in distress has already been injured either by working on the production or by another factor which may be outside the production’s control.
Given that levels of anxiety and depression have risen by 8.1% (Gov.uk, 2020) in 2020 alone due to the impact of COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and Brexit related anxieties, this provision of first responders is a welcome step forward. We at 6ft from the Spotlight have been training and supporting crews in this area for nearly 3 years.
However, it does not address the fact that the person has already been injured, likely with many contributing factors which could combine both the work environment and the persons personal circumstances.
The Health and Safety Executive advise that first response and helplines should be part of a wider, overall preventative strategy for addressing stress and mental health issues in the workplace. Dealing with stress and mental health issues is one of the HSE’s top 3 priorities over the next 3 -5 years. (Health and Safety Executive; hse.gov.uk, 2020)
Clearly, people in the industry want change without the regulator stepping in. If we contrast the problem with physical safety, we would not allow this level of physical injury without investigating and putting control measures in place.
Health and safety law and mental health
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) is an immensely powerful piece of legislation.
In a nutshell, Section 2 sets out the obligations of employers to identify the risks of the work they carry out and inform employees how those risks are to be controlled and who will control them. There are also obligations on employees to inform their employer of health and safety issues they know of and to work with their employer to ensure their own safety and the safety of their colleagues.
The act defines injury as physical or mental. Hence, employers must consider the risks of mental health and stress.
Section 3 of the act obliges a company to consider the implications of its activity on the health and safety of all who are engaged with it. Not just its employees. Hence a company must consider how to control the risks of what it does on contractors, freelancers, sub-contractors’ employees, visitors, volunteers and the public.
The provisions of section 3 mean that commissioning entities, broadcasters and production companies have a duty of care down through their supply chain. I have heard, anecdotally, that the support of freelancers is not done in the industry due to the potential that this support may infer ‘employment’. It should be noted that Health and Safety law is Criminal Law and Employment law is civil. There is a legal, moral and ethical duty of care which supersedes the inference of employment. Workers in this industry have died, possibly as a direct result of the conditions in the industry.
Several years ago, the construction industry realised that it had an issue with safety and accountability. In response the industry, in conjunction with the HSE, developed the Construction (Design and Management) or CDM regulations 2015. These set out the responsibilities and accountabilities across the industry. The principles here are worth further investigation to see if they can be adapted for Film and TV.
The Managing Health and Safety Regulations 1999 requires all companies to conduct risk assessments, record them if there are 5 or more workers and then implement controls that reduce the risks to a level that is ‘As Low As Reasonably Practicable’ or ALARP. Picking up the pieces after someone is injured is not ALARP.
Any risk assessment must include preventative measures and since injury can be physical or mental, must include prevention measure for stress and mental health issues arising from work activities.
Stress and mental health risk assessment
Stress and Mental Health risk assessment is not as straight forward as a physical assessment.
The large proportion of physical risks will result in similar outcomes for all workers eg a fall from significant height. Although those that are more vulnerable must be considered ie pregnant workers or those with health conditions.
Whilst Stress and Mental Health risk assessment is not straightforward it is by no means impossible and there are existing models currently being applied in other industries that could be adapted
There is a well-defined and understood Hierarchy of Control for physical risk.
- Personal Protective Equipment
These are not applicable in the same form for Stress and mental health as there is no PPE for MH (other than earplugs for some that raise their voice perhaps!)
With Stress and Mental health, the outcome for 2 people can be very different, some people thrive on pressure and remain resilient, others do not. There are also potential triggers to consider which may be very personal. So we can consider controls in 3 categories based on HSE guidance.
According to the HSE collective measures to prevent stress should be given priority and the elimination or avoidance of stress should be the goal with stress being tackled at source.
PRIMARY – Global Prevention Strategy
Use of management Systems, culture change, allocation of resources, creating a plan, work policies
SECONDARY – Individual Prevention Strategy
Provision of training and awareness, specific job design, avoiding individual triggers
TERTIARY – Individual Intervention Strategy
Employee assistance program (Helplines), First Responders, Counselling
We also need to consider the risks of stress, which are set out by the HSE Management Standards
Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work pattern and the work environment
Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work
Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation
Additionally, film and TV production throws up some added considerations of risks that may impact stress and mental wellbeing
Content – harrowing, graphic or violent for example
Context – Shoots in triggering locations, remote working, foreign work etc
Cost and Benefit
A study by Deloitte (Hampson & Jacob, 2020) shows that global or group strategies give the best return on investment. Overall, they conclude that the return on investment in reducing workplace stress is around 5:1., with Group pro-active initiatives at 7:1 and individual reactive initiatives at a lower level of 3:1.
The benefits come in reduction in absence and presentee-ism and improvements in efficiency.
Therefore, to get the most value, proactive programs need to be included along with the reactive interventions that allow productions to meet their duty of care and realise the maximum return on investment.
GLOBAL PREVENTION STRATEGY IDEAS for Film and TV
Changing the way the industry operates is paramount and there are many organisations looking to transform the culture and the working practices.
Dolly Mental Health, Team Human Share my Telly Job, Raising Films, Cinemamas, The TV Mindset, Solas Mind as well as 6ft from The Spotlight and many others.
Each of these organisations’ maps across the key themes of reducing the risk of stress and improving mental health for workers.
Whilst the industry works on a global strategy each individual production and company can play its part by actioning the key points below:
Create a mental health policy and a mental health plan which includes preventative strategies as well as support. Tailor them for the production in terms of duration, size, content, context and for each of the stages Prep, Production and Post.
Use anti-stigma campaigns.
Train all workers in mental health awareness.
Train producers and HODs to manage mental health more effectively.
Ensure people know where to turn if they have a problem
Stop Bullying and harassment
Create diversity and inclusion
Conduct risk assessments early and review. Feed them into an action plan.
Talk, Collaborate, share and discuss – communicate
We are all in this together, it is not a competition, collaboration will see the quickest and most effective change. Our colleagues lives and livelihood depend on it.