British Columbia

'It will kill you': Serious injuries on the rise in B.C.'s booming film industry

There were more than 100 serious injury claims in B.C. last year, according to WorkSafeBC, and a new campaign seeks to bring that number down.

More than 100 serious injury claims were filed in B.C. last year

A motorcycle lies on the ground after a crash near Jack Poole Plaza in downtown Vancouver that killed 40-year-old stunt performer Joi "SJ" Harris in August 2017. (Don Marce/CBC)

It was a routine day on set of Ryan Reynold's Deadpool 2  in the summer of 2017 when crews prepared to shoot a high-speed action sequence in downtown Vancouver.

Joi "SJ" Harris, a 40-year-old stunt performer, was rehearsing a scene that involved driving a motorcycle out the open doors of a building.

"The sound of the motorcycle — I just thought that was the wrong sound," recalls David Brown, 49, a grip who was working on the set. "You think something might be wrong, and sure enough it is."

Harris failed to stop where she was supposed to and struck a curb. She was thrown off the motorcycle and propelled through a plate glass window.

Joi 'SJ' Harris died in a motorcycle accident on Aug. 14, 2017, while filming a stunt for the film Deadpool 2. (SJ Harris/Instagram )

"Everything was cool, and then it wasn't — just like that," said Brown.

The death of Harris is a haunting reminder of how quickly things can go wrong on a film set. The number of serious injuries has grown steadily since 2012 as B.C.'s film industry grows to historic heights.

That's why workers like Brown are supporting a campaign aimed at raising awareness for safety on film sets.

Acting safe

A number of high profile injuries loom over B.C.'s film sector. In 2016, Maze Runner star Dylan O'Brien was severely injured in a botched stunt near Kamloops.

Dylan O'Brien appears in a scene from the film, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, in this image released by 20th Century Fox. He was injured on the set of the film's sequel shot near Cache Creek, B.C., west of Kamloops in the province's southern Interior. (Richard Foreman, Jr./20th Century Fox via AP)

Last year, Riverdale actor K.J. Apa crashed his car after a 14-hour workday in the Vancouver area.

Anand Kanna, manager of motion picture programs and services for the Actsafe Safety Association (ASA), says a lot of work-related injuries happen during the mad dash to get a film finished on time.

"There's a lot of push to get a project completed, and in those instances workers need to know what their rights and responsibilities are, and what the responsibilities are of an employer," Kanna told CBC News.

The Deadpool series has been filmed in locations throughout Vancouver, including the Georgia Viaduct, and beneath the Granville street bridge. ( Daniel Beauparlant/CBC)

Kanna has launched an Injury Prevention Week under the ASA banner. The goal is to raise awareness for injuries that afflict hundreds of workers — the bulk of which are suffered by grips.

Grips are film crew technicians who support the work of camera operators by setting up tripods, cranes, dollies, tracks and rigging to position cameras and help with lighting for each shot.

"A lot of workers can be injured when working around trucks — unloading and loading and parking and dealing with lift gates and such, this campaign grew from that."

Injury statistics

According to ASA, 58 per cent of grips have experienced an injury due to loading or unloading a truck.

The number of injury claims in B.C.'s arts and entertainment industry has grown since 2012. Not featured in this graph are numbers from 2017, which include 103 serious injury claims and 602 time loss claims. (WorkSafeBC)

WorkSafeBC stats suggest that the number of injury claims have been on the rise since 2012. In 2017, there were 103 serious injury claims in the arts and entertainment industry, as well as more than 600 time-loss claims. Injury rates now hover above the provincial average.

For grips like Brown, safety comes down to knowing the risks of working with heavy sound, light and camera equipment that's often suspended overhead.

David Brown, 49, has worked as a grip for 21-years, suffering a few minor injuries along the way. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

"It will kill you, there's no question about it," he said. "You go from being healthy to dead, and that sounds harsh, but it's true. And you have your own family to consider, not to mention your own livelihood."

"The worst-case scenario can happen."