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November 27, 2023

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£800k fine after stunt performer sustains life-changing injuries on Fast and Furious movie set

A production company has been fined after a stunt performer was injured during the filming of Fast and Furious 9: The Fast Saga, amongst calls for improvements to health and safety on set. 

The stunt vest Mr Watts was wearing. Credit: Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Joe Watts, from Surrey, had been filming a fight scene for the popular film franchise, and sustained life-changing injuries after he fell approximately 25 feet at Warner Bros. studios in Leavesden, Hertfordshire on 22 July 2019.

He fell 25 feet onto the concrete floor below when the line on his stunt vest became detached. As a result of his fall, Mr Watts suffered a fractured skull and a severe traumatic brain injury, which has resulted in permanent impairment and disability.

No system to ‘double check’ for faults

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found several failings by FF9 Pictures Limited.

The company’s risk assessment failed to address the potential issue of a rope snap or a link failure, there was no system for double checking that the link had been properly engaged and tightened. There was also no system for checking the link for signs of deformation or stretching between takes, the manufacturer’s website stated that the link used was forbidden for use as PPE and shock loading should be avoided.

On top of that, six-monthly inspections of harnesses were required but Mr Watts’ harness had not been inspected in the last six months and FF9 Pictures Limited did not extend the crash matting needed to mitigate the consequences of an unintended fall following changes to the set and the sequence of the stunt.

The incident took place at Warner Brothers’ studios in Leavesden. Credit: HSE

“It is not about preventing a fall but minimising the risk of an injury.”

FF9 Pictures Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £800,000 and ordered to pay £14,752.85 in costs at Luton Magistrates’ Court on 24 November 2023.

HSE Inspector Roxanne Barker said: “Mr Watts’ injuries were life-changing and he could have easily been killed. In stunt work, it is not about preventing a fall but minimising the risk of an injury.”

Calls for health and safety action on sets 

James Bond actor Rory Kinnear spoke to the BBC this month about safety on sets after his father, actor Roy Kinnear died from being thrown form a horse during the filming of The Return of the Musketeers in 1988. He said: “Thirty years later, things simply haven’t changed.

“You’ve got a lot of young people wanting to enter an industry that they know is perilous, both financially and in terms of work, but not necessarily aware of how perilous the practices on set are as well.

Last week, a company in the entertainment industry was fined following the death of a worker after he feel from height on a stage. The 52-year-old man was part of an assembly team for a project that required the building of a temporary rehearsal stage, and was working on the roof of the cube when he fell through the structure and landed 10 metres below. He died from his injuries three days later.

This month, BBC’s Top Gear series was announced not to be returning ‘for the foreseeable future’ following presenter, Freddie Flintoff’s crash injury and questions over the safety on its shows.

Kinnear added: “Now is the time for this opportunity to be taken in terms of understanding that we don’t need to exclude excitement or creativity or invention for safety, that the two can and must work together.”

Further reading: ‘With stunts there’s a lot of moving parts’: Overseeing safety in the entertainment industry

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