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Stunt actor’s death prompts firearm safety warning

The death of an actor on a Brisbane music video set has highlighted the need to manage the risks from firearms. These guidelines from Screen Safe Australia show you how.

The actor died on 23 January 2017 while making a music video in the Brisbane CBD. During the filming of a gun fight sequence, he was fatally wounded when wadding and other material forcibly ejected from a shotgun, hit his chest.

In 2018, a court learned about an armourer who was illegally supplied with shotgun shells by a supplier with no formal qualifications or licences in relation to manufacturing ammunition for supply. The supplier was fined $2,500 and convicted on a plea of guilty to one charge of manufacturing explosives without authority, and the unauthorised sale of explosives.

In Queensland, the regulatory framework outlines the duties for people conducting a business or undertaking, and people involved in the production of music videos.

This WHS regulatory framework, which enables enforcement for non-compliance, is supported by comprehensive national guidelines developed by Australian industry bodies in response to the death.

Productions in New South Wales and Queensland must take professional advice about the ability to use operable firearms. NSW and Queensland laws prohibit the use of firearms that have not been modified to prevent the chambering or discharge of a live round.

The Safe Screen Australia guide spells out who is responsible for safety on a set, pre-production safety, and daily production safety checks, and medical support.

There is information also on the use of blank ammunition; a ‘blank’ is a firearm cartridge that has propellent but no hard projectile and is used to generate a muzzle flash and sound. Definitions on the differences between imitation, replica, and antique firearms can also be found in the guide.

The guide says that the producer, theatrical armourer, first assistant director (first AD), safety supervisor, key grip and stunt co-ordinator are considered to be persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), and as such are responsible for safety on set. It also includes an extensive list of golden rules:

  • Live ammunition should never be on a film set.
  • All dummy ammunition needs to be distinguishable from live ammunition and capable of being demonstrated to be so.
  • Assume that firearms are always loaded.
  • The armourer is to provide safe, operational firearms and blanks, suitable for those firearms and for the action to be performed. Testing and discussion around suitability should be done in pre-production.
  • Blanks can kill – they are explosive-type devices. The armourer is responsible for testing the blanks and knowing the safe working parameters of those blanks.
  • Blank ammunition, dummy ammunition and firearms should be stored securely when not under the direct supervision of the armourer.

The list also includes advice on risk management, training and supervision, and use of PPE (ensure PPE has been provided for risks such as hearing damage and burns).

More information

Read the Screen Safe Australia guidelines and other industry safety information.