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Insights

What is a risk assessment in filmmaking?

What is a risk assessment in filmmaking?

Creating a risk assessment is the starting point for managing the health and safety, security, and medical risks inherent in filmmaking. To be most effective, they are developed by expert risk management professionals and approved by the production’s senior management. Once complete, the risk assessment is used to select and prioritize control measures that will help a production to eliminate or mitigate the likelihood and consequence of potential negative outcomes.

What is a risk assessment?

Risk assessments for filmmaking identify the hazards that a production may face on set or location and provide recommendations for eliminating or mitigating and controlling those risks. They assist producers to make decisions and set budgets that allow for safe workplaces and minimize the chance of costly delays or shutdowns.

Since every production involves a unique combination of locations, environments, activities, and people, each production’s risks need to be assessed individually. The first step is identifying the hazards and providing context about who or what might be affected and how. The more experienced the risk assessment team is in understanding the risks of filmmaking and the more thorough the register of potential risks they use, the more likely every hazard will be identified.

The next step is assessing the level of risk posed by each hazard without any mitigation or control measures in place. This is described as the “initial risk rating” and is calculated by GFS using the following methodology: Likelihood of Occurrence x Severity of Consequence = Initial Risk Rating. “Likelihood of occurrence” refers to the probability a hazard will cause a negative outcome and “severity of consequence” refers to the potential impact of that negative outcome. The initial risk rating is defined using a four-tier system that describes low risks, moderate risks, high risks, and extreme risks.

Once the initial risk rating for each hazard is determined, the risk assessment team can identify interventions for either eliminating or mitigating and controlling the risk. These controls are provided in the risk assessment as strategic or high-level recommendations. They are generally ranked in preference based on what is known as the “hierarchy of controls”: “elimination” is preferred over “prevention”, “prevention” is preferred over “mitigation”, and “mitigation” is preferred over “recovery”. Implementing individual control measures can reduce the likelihood of a negative outcome occurring, reduce the severity of potential consequences for the production, or both.

The recommendations need to provide enough specificity to allow for a “residual risk rating” to be determined. This is an estimation of what the level of risk posed by each hazard will be after controls measures are put in place. The residual risk rating can then be used to select and prioritize interventions.

Who is involved with a risk assessment in filmmaking?

In film production, risk assessments are typically prepared by key production personnel such as producers and production managers, or external risk management experts such as GFS. Once developed, they must be reviewed and approved by the production’s senior management, who select and prioritize which control measures to implement.

The decision whether to outsource a risk assessment may depend on the apparent level of overall risk associated with a production and the internal capacity, capabilities, and policies of the network, studio, and/or production company involved. While the perceived benefit of producing risk assessments in-house is usually cost-savings, this needs to be weighed against the expertise and efficiency gains of using risk management professionals – particularly when the price of an outsourced risk assessment is a fraction of the overall investment involved in film production.

Not only do expert risk management companies for film production provide specialist knowledge of the unique risks involved in filmmaking, they also keep an up-to-date understanding of best practice standards for risk management. For example, GFS adheres to the International Organization for Standardization Risk Management principles (ISO 31000) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA and NEBOSH) guidelines when undertaking risk assessments.

These standards and guidelines focus on the need for risk management processes to be dynamic and responsive to change. This means GFS is well-positioned to help productions continuously review and update their risk assessments to ensure they are always fit for purpose, and to evaluate them once a production wraps to ensure key learnings can be applied to the next project.

What generally cannot be outsourced is the producer’s responsibility for determining a production’s risk appetite and choosing which of the recommended risk elimination, mitigation, or control measures to implement. A production’s appetite for risk is normally driven by its ability to absorb losses (for example, financial losses, delays, or the need to substitute cast or crew members) and the risks inherent in any activities integral to the production (for example, consider a documentary about extreme skiing). The production’s comfort with risk-taking then directly influences the control measures that will be selected for implementation.

It can be difficult to define the level of risk that is acceptable or tolerable because of the subjectivity of any given hazard. GFS has adopted the ALARP (As Low as Reasonably Practicable) principle for managing risks. The ALARP principle aims to simply determine the level of risk a hazard poses and then implement controls to manage the risk to an acceptable and manageable level.

What happens after the risk assessment is produced?

After a production’s risk assessment is developed and approved, the next step is implementing the selected control measures. This may include making changes to health and safety policies, hiring of key risk management personnel such as a set medic, or developing security plans. Some measures will be simple for production to implement themselves, and others may require assistance from risk management experts.

GFS provides a comprehensive range of services to help productions implement their risk mitigation strategies, from developing risk management plans to deploying expert risk management officers onto a set or location. When we have been involved with developing a risk assessment, we can work particularly efficiently to assist with further planning and implementation due to our existing understanding of the production’s circumstances.

Whether a producer chooses to engage a risk management company or not, the most important step after developing a risk assessment is bringing the document to life by implementing control measures and regularly reviewing its contents – otherwise it will become an obsolete file with no real value to the production.

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