Thursday, 11 February 2016

Safe Working Environments

This is the second in a series of blogs from our new Employment Consultant, Ayesha Casely-Hayford.

*It has been over three years since the shocking accident at Soho Theatre, which left stage manager Rachael Presdee (39) paralysed. The fact this incident occurred, and that it was possible for it to occur, is a very real reminder of the importance of safe working environments. Put plainly, we have a responsibility for the well-being of ourselves and of others that must at all times be at the forefront of our minds, foregoing all else.

In June 2012, Ms Presdee was working in a Headlong production at Soho Theatre when she fell three metres on to the stage after walking through an unmarked backstage door. She was left paralysed from the waist down. In describing the incident, Ms Presdee in reference to the backstage door said: “It was plain, no lock, no sign, and the same colour as all the other doors. I didn’t think. I opened the door looking for a lighting panel and took a step in to turn the lights on and there was no floor beneath me. I found myself falling in the pitch black and I just had absolutely no idea what was going on [...] It was two minutes of my life that completely and utterly changed everything”.

A civil case against Soho Theatre followed and with Equity (the UK performers’ union) representing Ms Presdee, an award of £3.7 million was made to Ms Presdee, in damages. There were also criminal proceedings brought against the theatre by Westminster City Council. In those proceedings the theatre pleaded guilty to breaching section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Soho Theatre was ordered to pay a fine of £20,000 and £10,000 towards the prosecution costs.

The words of Judge Alistair McCreath raise points deserving reflection. He said: “It is plain that, in general terms, too much was left to be done by too few. In particular, the employee whose ultimate responsibility it was to identify and manage the risk presented by this Juliet door had so many other tasks to perform that he simply did not turn his mind to it.”

Artists are generous. By its nature creativity comes from a generous place of sensitivity to the world around. It is not unusual to get caught up in situations and circumstances where it really is too much...but because “the show must go on” and you’re hoping to secure future and further employment in this precarious arts industry, there is a fear to speak out and cause “trouble” - we carry on regardless. But is compromising your own safety and - let’s not shy away from it -  the lives of others, a good enough reason?  We all know it is not. Forever rest assured, you are never causing trouble when acting in protection of your health and safety rights. You are never causing trouble when you are acting with an intention to prevent yourself and others being vulnerable to dangerous, even life threatening eventualities.

Ms Presdee spoke up after her accident and said, in respect of the theatre, “I’m not vengeful towards them”. She commented “I feel like my accident needs to highlight that we don’t always have a lot of money in this industry, but we do need to take care of ourselves before we even start thinking about what we’re putting on stage”.

The pre-thought and pre-planning that goes into work in the creative arts, and any working environment, is of extreme importance. Knowing your legal rights so that you can create safe barriers is a crucial part of that. It is not only about physical buildings and physical aspects - it is about the length of time you work, the amount of breaks you get, how you are treated and the affects that might have on your mental and emotional state. Having coherent and agreed contracts and policies in place so that everyone knows their duties and responsibilities is also fundamental to safety.

In order to speak up about your rights and take action, you need to know what your rights are. Be informed and protect yourself. Be mindful of your own well-being so that you can stop, observe, think and speak out before you’ve worked so hard and become so tired you are in the zone of taking risks. The same goes for pushing ourselves too far, being so generously enthusiastic to do a good job, to get the work done, despite difficult circumstances.

Is slowing down and speaking up with concerns more frightening a prospect than putting yourself and others at devastatingly serious risk? I would suggest Ms Presdee’s case teaches us, deafeningly clearly, that this must never be the case.

*source: Georgia Snow ‘Record £3.7m payout to stage manager paralysed by fall’ (The Stage Magazine, December 18th 2014)


At 28 February 2016 at 02:15 , Blogger Unknown said...

A very important lesson to be learned from what happened to Rachel Presdee at Soho Theatre. Employment law from a theatre perspective. A new employment law service from Wainwright and Cummins LLP, which we are delighted to offer to clients.

#Workplacewellness #safety #Employment #Law


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