Occupational hazards exist for movie stars, just like they do for “regular” workers. As the result of a serious injury that occurred on set to actor Harrison Ford, the makers of Star Wars: The Force Awakens have been sentenced in a UK court for failing to protect the actors and workers while on set during filming at Pinewood Studio, Slough, Buckinghamshire.
Foodles Production (UK) Ltd. pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to Section 2 and Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and were fined £1.6 million and ordered to pay costs of £20,861.22 at Aylesbury Crown Court.
Ford suffered a broken leg and deep lacerations when he was knocked off his feet and pinned to the floor of the Millennium Falcon set when a prop door closed on him. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and found that there was no automatic emergency cut off to protect those on set, instead the filmmakers relied on the reactions of the prop operator(s) to bring the door to a stop.
The door’s steel frame was overlaid with sheets of metal and had a tapered edge. Its operation moved from ceiling to floor in a sharp downward motion. It did not have any automated safety mechanisms to cut out if a person was unexpectedly under the door.
“It was only the almost instantaneous actions of the prop operator in hitting the emergency stop that prevented the door from continuing to press down on Mr. Ford as he lay on the floor,” said HSE’s Divisional Director Tim Galloway. “I think everyone would accept that all the people who work in the film industry have a right to know that the risks they take to entertain us, including when making action movies, are properly managed and controlled.”
Aylesbury Crown Court heard how a combination of preventable events, starting with how the door was designed, led to the incident.
During dress rehearsals on June 12, 2014, Harrison Ford walked back towards the entrance ramp of the Millennium Falcon and pressed the prop door button to “close” the door. As the cameras were not rolling, he did not expect it to close. The production crew member who was operating the prop believed they were in full rehearsal and closed the door.
The risk of the door causing a serious injury or death had been highlighted by one of the health and safety officers for the production company. According to HSE, Foodles Production (UK) Ltd. should have put a system in place to ensure the actors and production workers were protected. A different design with built-in safety features or using a different material could have guarded against any possible miscommunication on a busy film set.
“This incident was foreseeable and preventable and could have resulted in more serious injury or even death,” said Galloway. “The power and speed of the door was such that, had Mr. Ford or anyone else had been struck on the head by the door as it closed, they might easily have been killed.”