As Hollywood works with the unions and guilds to safely resume television and film production business, there is much discussion over the desire to lessen crew density on sets versus the desire of the guilds to protect the jobs of members heading into a post-pandemic future. There is one area that will become a boom market: medics, temperature takers, coronavirus test takers, and sanitizers to make sure sets are as safe as possible places to work.
Every producer we’ve spoken with who’s planning to resume or start new projects says they expect to pay for a least a dozen or more people who will play a key role in the area of safety. And all of those health workers come under the auspices of IATSE.
“The training our members already have makes them uniquely qualified to handle what’s going on now,” said Davis, who is also IATSE’s 2nd international vice president. “They’re referred to as set medics, but they’re all, at a minimum, emergency medical technicians; most are paramedics, and a good number are nurses, as well.”
Each of the local’s medics is certified and re-certified periodically to demonstrate that they’re up to date on their skills and knowledge. “I’ll tell you what,” Davis said. “If you’re having a heart attack on set, you will want to be with one of our folks. They know exactly what to do and how to get you where you need to be. But this virus is so new that the entire medical establishment is still learning.”
Enhanced training will be needed for everyone involved with safety on the set – including medics. To that end, the union is rolling out an advanced training program for medics that’s designed specifically to prevent contact with the virus. “Right now we’re looking at stepped up training, subject to this virus,” he said. “We’re putting the finishing touches on a program for that. Our members are well-suited for an advanced role on the set. They have the training; they have the knowledge, and they have the background for that. So we’ve put together a program to enhance the knowledge and training that they’ve already undergone to expand and ensure another level of safety for the crew and the production as a whole. I would think the employers would want to take advantage of that knowledge and experience.”
Davis, whose 3,700-member local includes grips and craft services, said he can’t imagine any show planning to film without a union set medic. “In my discussion with the members, everybody wants to get back to work, but they’re a little apprehensive, as are all workers — it doesn’t matter if you work on a film set, in a grocery store or a gas station. So by having the set medics there, monitoring the conditions, monitoring the crew, making sure that all the protocols are being followed by the production and the employees, I think that increases the level of safety in the workplace, and I also think it brings a certain comfort level to the worksite as well. When you walk onto a set, whether it’s under construction or in production, and you don’t see any medics there, there’s sort of a natural apprehension. But when you see that that production has taken care to a have set medics there, people are a little more at ease and you wind up with a much more productive workforce.”
Davis said that the expanded role of set medics has been a topic of ongoing discussions at the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee, which is currently developing protocols for the safe return to work. “If we’re going to be looking out for the welfare of the crew over concerns about this virus, that doesn’t mean that the duties they were performing prior go away. I think that’s just sort of a natural.”
The Safety Committee has been issuing detailed safety bulletins for decades, outlining the role set medics play in dealing with everything from on-set injuries to frostbite, bug bites, hypothermia, sea sickness, poisonous plants and animals, underwater and electrical hazards, allergies, asthma and respiratory ailments. And as laid out in one particularly apt bulletin, the handling of “potentially infectious materials.”
Davis isn’t a member of the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee, but his local’s chief safety officer, Kent Jorgensen, co-chairs it. “The people that are serving on the committee have been working night and day, and that’s on both the union and the company sides,” he said.
“You have a large number of people on these committees; everything’s getting vetted, and I’m actually very, very impressed with the way that this has been working. I’m not sitting in on those meetings, but the reports I’m getting back is that there’s been very collaborative. People are not bringing agendas to the table; they’re bringing ideas, and instead of bringing problems, they’re identifying problems and finding solutions, sort of what you would hope that it would be.”