Lights, Camera, Safety: Fire Risk Assessment in UK-Based Film Studios

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In the vibrant landscape of the United Kingdom’s film industry, from the bustling streets of London to the serene countryside of Wales, creativity flourishes within film studios. These studios are the heart of innovation, where compelling stories come to life through elaborate sets, cutting-edge effects, and, at times, controlled fires. However, the allure of cinematic artistry should never overshadow the crucial need for fire risk assessment and safety protocols.

Imagine, for a moment, you’re on the set of the next blockbuster. Everyone is in their element; directors passionately crafting moments of cinematic magic, actors seamlessly stepping into character to execute an emotive scene perfectly. Everything’s going smoothly, until all at once, what was once a majestic fantasy world erupts into real-life chaos as fire erupts.

Let’s explore more about Fire Risk Assessments in UK Based Film Studios

Table of Contents

Unveiling the Nexus of Creativity and Safety in UK Film Studios

The UK film industry, renowned for its artistic achievements, has a duty to uphold safety standards without compromising on creativity. The challenge is to harmonize the two seamlessly, ensuring that safety measures become an integral part of the creative process. This approach fosters an environment where artistic ingenuity coexists with stringent safety practices.

The world of film and television production is a thrilling and fast-paced industry. From blockbuster movie sets to television studios, the creativity and imagination behind the scenes are truly remarkable. However, amidst all the excitement, it is crucial to acknowledge and address potential risks, particularly when it comes to fire hazards.

Most Productions will have a health and safety advisor, however as of the 1st of October 2023 the emphasis is now on being more sector competent. For further reading click the button below.

Recognising Fire Hazards in UK Film Studios

UK-based studios encounter a range of potential fire hazards during film production. These hazards could stem from the use of pyrotechnics, intricate lighting systems, or the creation of artificial fire scenes. Evaluating these elements through comprehensive risk assessments is vital. Identifying and addressing potential risks, such as proper storage of flammable materials and maintaining electrical systems, forms the cornerstone of fire risk management.

 

Prevention and Preparedness: Safeguarding Creativity

Prevention remains the linchpin of fire risk management. UK film studios can incorporate various preventive measures, including installing fire detection and suppression systems, conducting regular fire drills, and providing thorough training on emergency procedures. Having designated fire safety officers present during high-risk filming sequences ensures a proactive approach to safety.

In addition to prevention, preparedness stands as a critical pillar. This involves clear communication of emergency protocols, accessible firefighting equipment, and an understanding of the studio layout, emergency exits, and assembly points.

Embracing Innovation in Safety Practices

Innovation doesn’t solely belong on the screen; it has a role in safety practices too. UK film studios can leverage technological advancements in fire-retardant materials for props and costumes. Additionally, exploring the use of virtual effects to simulate fire scenes contributes to safety without compromising the visual narrative.

Continual research and development in fire safety technology can foster groundbreaking solutions tailored to the specific demands of the UK film production landscape.

Legislation

In England and Wales, fire safety legislation is primarily governed by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. Meanwhile, Scotland operates under the Fire (Scotland) Act, and Northern Ireland adheres to the Fire Safety Regulations (NI).

It is imperative that all sets within the studio adhere to stringent construction and management practices to ensure the safety of all occupants in the event of a fire, be they audience members, talent, or production crew members.

The process of conducting fire risk assessments is deeply embedded within the framework of Fire Safety legislation. This applies equally to the design of sets and scenery within studios as it does to the structural aspects of the studio buildings. The subsequent sections are intended to offer guidance to set designers, assisting in the creation of secure and compliant spaces across all areas

Amidst the accolades and applause for cinematic excellence, let’s ensure that the spotlight also illuminates the conscientious efforts undertaken to ensure safety for all involved.

Guidelines for Safe Material Use in Set Construction

Our Guide

Timber Specification

All timber used in construction should meet fire retardant standards. Materials forming part of the set, scenery, and stage must align with specific criteria:

Utilisation of non-combustible materials like metal or masonry.

Timber, hardboard, or plywood treated through an impregnation process meeting ‘surface spread of flame’ ratings of Class 1 (BS 476-7) or Class C-s3.d2 (BS EN 13501-1).

Timber framing of at least 22mm nominal thickness.

MDF, plywood, or chipboard not less than 18mm thick.

In cases where plywood, hardboard, chipboard, or MDF do not meet the prescribed dimensions, they should bear a visible stamp certifying the achieved flame retardancy standard. Alternatively, certificates need to be obtained by the set designer or construction company and retained in the production safety file if the stamp is not evident.

Furniture and Bedding Protocols

All furniture and bedding should undergo treatment and testing to ensure compliance with fire retardancy standards as per BS 7176. However, items bought post the Furniture and Furnishings Regulations of 1988, appropriately labelled, are deemed suitable for short-term use in non-domestic settings.

Furniture constructed between 1950 and 1988 might contain highly combustible and toxic polyurethane foam and should not be used unless treated to a suitable fire-retardant standard. Furniture predating 1950, lacking polyurethane foam, can be used without additional treatment to the upholstery or covering.

Curtains, Drapes, and Wall Coverings

For set, scenery, and stage design, all curtains, drapes, and materials must be fire retardant. This includes:

Wallpaper, Carpets, and Flooring

Wallpaper and synthetic substitutes must be affixed to flame-resistant surfaces without any air space. Carpets must adhere to BS 4790 (Hot Nut Test) standards and only be attached to substrates meeting BS 476 Part 7 Class 1, securely fixed, and not used vertically without appropriate fire testing.

Floor paints are recommended to be water-based, and wherever feasible, other paints should also follow suit. It’s advisable to avoid using polystyrene block scenery or, if used, enclose it with a non-combustible covering.

 

Polystyrene Usage

Items made of expanded polystyrene must be covered by a non-combustible skin and maintained without damage. Light reflecting boards using polystyrene should adhere to Class 1 fire retardancy standards and should be cautiously used around high-temperature light units, avoiding unattended placement during use.

Adhering to these stringent material guidelines is essential to ensure fire safety during set construction and within production environments.

In the grand production of filmmaking, safety isn’t just a supporting role—it’s a lead character.

Disclaimer:
This blog provides general insights and should not replace professional advice on fire safety in UK-based film studios. 

Studios should seek guidance from qualified UK fire safety professionals for tailored risk assessments and safety measures.

Enhancing Fire Safety Measures in Studio Environments

Designers, encompassing set designers, gaffers, construction managers, and other design contributors, bear the responsibility of ensuring that all occupants can safely navigate to a secure location in the event of a fire. Legally, provisions are mandated to alert occupants to a fire, provide effective escape routes, and ensure that these routes can be safely utilized in critical situations.

In studio settings, additional measures beyond those managed by the building’s facilities management are imperative. Specifically:

Fire Detection and Alarm

Ensuring means for fire detection and alarm initiation is vital, especially when automatic fire detection within studios is isolated during production or concealed by false ceilings integrated into set construction. Manual methods of raising alarms should be established where human detection (sight and smell) is feasible, and the presence of fire can be effectively communicated. In scenarios where areas might remain unoccupied for extended periods, automatic fire detection may be necessary to ensure timely evacuation.

Emergency Lighting

While many studios may have emergency lighting complying with standards, it might not adequately meet changing set layout requirements. Ensuring that occupants have sufficient lighting to see escape routes, negotiate hazards, and discern signage is essential. Provision of additional emergency lighting units might be necessary to illuminate parts shielded by set construction, particularly focusing on changes of level and direction along the escape route.

Fire Exit Signage

Appropriate fire exit signs above exit doors and directional signs along the outer perimeter are imperative for clear guidance. In cases where the way out from the set is not evident, additional signage should be provided within the set itself, and if the location of exit doors from the studio is not immediately apparent, extra directional signage is required.

Fire Extinguishers

Strategically placing fire extinguishers within studios is crucial. Occupants should have access to water or foam extinguishers within a 30m radius. Additional extinguishers may be required based on the set’s layout, such as in cooking areas or where live fires are used, ensuring appropriate equipment placement and proximity to the activity.

Fire Safety Provisions Used as Props

In productions where fire safety items like ‘Fire Exit’ signs or extinguishers are used as props, these should direct occupants toward actual fire exits and must be readily available for use if needed. It’s essential to ensure that these items are in a usable condition even if not designated for actual firefighting. All occupants must be informed if certain items are not intended for firefighting purposes as part of the production narrative.

These comprehensive measures aim to fortify fire safety within studios, considering various potential scenarios to ensure the safety and well-being of all occupants during any unforeseen fire incidents.

Pyrotechnics And Flames Effects

Pyrotechnics

Film productions often involve the use of pyrotechnics, explosions, smoke machines, and other special effects that can pose a substantial fire risk if not handled properly. Implementing comprehensive safety protocols during rehearsals, employing trained pyrotechnicians or special effects professionals, and conducting thorough risk assessments prior to each setup can significantly reduce the risk associated with these elements.

A comprehensive risk assessment and method statement, overseen by the supervisor, must be obtained well in advance. It is crucial to meticulously review the risk assessment and method statement, addressing any areas of ambiguity by seeking clarification.

Key details outlined in the risk assessment should be shared with essential production team members and any external contractors involved. Specifically, attention should be given to aspects like transportation, storage, equipment usage, designated exclusion zones, handling of misfires, and fire safety protocols.

Standard smoke machines and hazers can be operated without the direct supervision of an SFX (Special Effects) supervisor under the condition that a skilled crew member, trained specifically in handling the machine, is available. This operational allowance is subject to a risk assessment confirming an acceptable level of risk. Training provided by the Association of Stage Pyrotechnics is essential in such cases.

Flame Effects

All LPG supply piping must meet approved construction standards, ensuring it is of minimal length and in optimal condition. Flame arrestor devices should be installed as necessary.

Control systems should feature a ‘Dead-Man’s Handle’ or an equivalent, such as a foot pedal.

For burner supply, dual valve isolation is essential, with one valve near the burners and another near the accumulator. The burner valve should stay closed until the igniter operates, automatically shutting off if the igniter ceases. The accumulator valve should remain closed until just before the flame effect. Only gas should be charged into the accumulator.

Pressure relief valves must be fitted to both the accumulator and LPG cylinders. Care should be taken to prevent gas build-up in low points near the equipment.

Indoor storage of spare LPG cylinders, particularly in studios, is prohibited due to safety concerns.

During risk assessments, evaluating the safe distance between performers and burners during the flame effect is crucial. A minimum distance of three meters is advised, which can be adjusted based on the burner size.

Consideration must be given to fire alarm arrangements in case isolation of automatic fire detectors is necessary. Coordination between facilities managers and security staff is vital to minimize disruptions while upholding fire safety standards.

Key details outlined in the risk assessment should be shared with essential production team members and any external contractors involved. Specifically, attention should be given to aspects like transportation, storage, equipment usage, designated exclusion zones, handling of misfires, and fire safety protocols.

Standard smoke machines and hazers can be operated without the direct supervision of an SFX (Special Effects) supervisor under the condition that a skilled crew member, trained specifically in handling the machine, is available. This operational allowance is subject to a risk assessment confirming an acceptable level of risk. Training provided by the Association of Stage Pyrotechnics is essential in such cases.

Enhancing Electrical Safety

The leading cause of accidental fires in non-residential buildings in the UK, remains the combination of flawed electrical supplies and malfunctioning electrical appliances. The number of fires due to the improper use of electrical appliances further compounds this issue. Fires can be caused by:

  • Faulty fixed-wiring electrical installation
  • Overheated electrical cables due to overloaded circuits or coiled reels
  • Incorrect installation of electrical equipment
  • Damaged, faulty, or misused electrical equipment
  • Combustible materials placed in close proximity to heat-generating equipment and lighting

All electrical systems must adhere to the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, commonly ensured by following the IET Wiring Regulations (BS 7671), often referred to as ‘The 18th Edition.’ Even temporary electrical systems, regardless of their size, must comply with BS 7909, a code of practice for temporary electrical systems set forth by BSI.

Further detailed guidance on electrical supplies and installations can be accessed through the Electrical Safety Homepage, which covers operational electrical equipment and systems, including guidelines for electricity distribution in temporary environments, especially on location or in studios.

Moreover, the law mandates that work equipment must be maintained in efficient working order, in good repair, and in an efficient state. Regarding electrical appliances and extension leads, strict adherence to specific checks and maintenance procedures is essential:

Regularly inspect electrical leads for any damage. Defective equipment should not be used; it should be isolated and reported.

Ensure electrical equipment undergoes Portable Appliance Testing (PAT testing).

Fully uncoil extension leads before use and avoid linking multiple leads.

Verify the safety of heating equipment before operation.

Refrain from using equipment emitting unusual heat or odours. In cases of doubt, have it inspected, repaired, or replaced.

Maintain equipment according to manufacturers’ recommendations.

Do not cover or obstruct vents of electrical equipment designed for heat dissipation.

Avoid placing heat-generating equipment, such as lighting, near easily ignitable combustible items.

Smoking

In adherence to UK workplace regulations, smoking of tobacco is strictly prohibited within all workplace environments. However, in England, an exception is made for smoking on sets, where it plays a crucial role in the storyline. For comprehensive guidance on this exception,

In cases where smoking is permitted on a set, specific measures must be taken to mitigate the risk of fire ignition:

  • Cigarettes should only be lit when essential for filming purposes.
  • Provision of firefighting equipment, such as a water extinguisher, should be ensured.
  • Consideration of potential smoke detector activation and consequent building evacuation should be evaluated. If necessary, any deactivation of smoke detectors must strictly comply with local premises permit procedures. Reactivation of the detectors post filming involving cigarettes is imperative.
  • Complete extinguishment of cigarettes in a suitable ashtray, followed by separate disposal from regular refuse.

To prevent clandestine smoking within the workplace, designated smoking areas must be established in accordance with the fire risk assessments of the premises.

Conclusion: Safety and Creativity in the Limelight

As the UK film industry continues to captivate audiences globally, the amalgamation of creativity and safety becomes not just a mandate but a moral commitment. undertaking regular fire risk assessments in UK-based film studios is a testament to the industry’s dedication to preserving lives and safeguarding the magic of storytelling.

Failing to comply with fire safety regulations in UK-based film studios can lead to devastating consequences. Beyond financial losses, the risk to human lives, legal ramifications, and reputational damage are significant concerns.

Lights out. Cut. Safety on!