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National Film and Television School fined after volunteer is paralysed

The National Film and Television School has been fined after a volunteer was left permanently paralysed after falling 2.25 metres from a mock staircase on set.

The school, which provides education in film and TV production, was prosecuted for safety breaches that led to the 2008 incident at Beaconsfield Film Studios in Buckinghamshire.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the school for not having a safe system in place to prevent falls. High Wycombe Magistrates’ Court heard it was evident the school did not have adequate management arrangements for the effective planning and execution of the student film it was producing at the time.

Magistrates heard, the 34-year-old woman, who does not wish to be named, was working as a volunteer costume designer for the production. She was attending to an actor’s costume before filming, when she fell from an unguarded platform edge at the top of a staircase that formed part of the set.

The woman was critically injured, fracturing vertebrae in her back and was diagnosed with permanent paralysis from the waist down. She has been left in chronic pain.

The HSE investigation found there was no edge protection at the top of the stairs. Actors, carpenters and other students were at risk of falling while carrying out assembly, decoration and lighting work from the staircase.

After the hearing, HSE commented: “This terrible incident was clearly preventable if a safe system of work had been put in place by The National Film and Television School during the initial production stages.

“A variety of methods can easily be used to prevent people or objects falling on theatre sets, depending on the visual appearance desired. It could be as simple as having edge protection at the end of a platform, or having safety restraint harnesses attached to people.

“Of course, last minute creative changes can occur during filming which it why it is essential an existing safe system of work is in place, with the main objective being to stop incidents like this happening.”

The National Film and Television School, of Beaconsfield Film Studios, Station Road, Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Regulation 5(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The organisation was fined £17,500 and ordered to pay costs of £4,787.