August 17, 2020

What Producers Should Look For in COVID-19 Safety Officers

Teresa Beardsley
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One meaningful way productions are staying safer on set is with COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officers.

In most cases, Public Health and union regulations require production companies to have a certified COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officer present on set from pre-call to taillights. But depending on what producer you chat with, COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officers have different connotations.

Some people think they’re licensed nurses, while others see them as glorified PAs. In this post, we’ll define exactly what a COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officer is responsible for in the production process and dive into five qualities production companies should look for when hiring.

What is a COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officer?

A COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officer is a new position designated within a production team to institute and oversee COVID-19 safety protocols on set. They should be treated by production companies as department heads, meaning: they should be included in the production planning process, location scouts, and so forth.

COVID Safety Officers - Hand Sanitizer - Wrapbook
Say hello to your new best friend on every film set.

This person should have a medical awareness about transmission of the virus, safety regulations governing the project, and the necessary steps to take if an outbreak were to occur.

Just a PA?

There has been a rumor floating around the entertainment world that a COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officer can be anyone on your set: a PA, AD, coordinator, and so forth. As long as they have a certificate from somewhere, they can call themselves a certified COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officer and they will be able to satisfy union, location, permit and insurance requirements.

While this is true, without the concentrated help of an informed and strongly-certified COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officer, your production runs the risk of merely administering performative safety measures. Without proper planning, your production can miss key risk-mitigation points, and you can’t truly guarantee a safe set for all stakeholders.

Think about it this way: if a DP shows up to set with a fever, you have to ask yourself, “Is the entire crew going to cease production because a PA said to?”

Set Medic vs. CCO

Health and Safety Management positions are relatively new to the entertainment industry particularly as we have not had to respond to a severely destructive pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918 or the Los Angeles Plague of 1925. A few organizations were prepared to respond such as National Set Medics, or Los Angeles Set Medics, and IATSE Local 80.

However, the job of a set medic and that of a COVID-Compliance Officer are very different though both must have a medical understanding of the coronavirus.

COVID-Compliance Officers must have a deep understanding of governing protocols in their county, with the various unions, the state, other states and countries may be traveling to and from, data, updated science regarding transmission and how it will affect protocols. The job of a medic is to respond to emergencies and triage on site. A medic is not allowed to take on a secondary responsibility on set.

Why? Medical negligence: a medic cannot be engaged in a secondary activity when they are acting in the capacity of a medic. A CCO can have a second responsibility as long as it’s not that of a medic. A strong CCO may be able to perform the duties of 2nd AD, a craft service station attendant, coordinator. The general consensus of our health and safety industry is that a set medic and a CCO are two separate jobs, they should work together to provide the strongest scope of safety on set.

What should producers look for in COVID-19 officers?

When producers hire cinematographers, they check their potential hire’s reel. But when it comes to COVID-19 Officers, the hiring process can get a bit tricky.

After all, you’re hiring for a position that has only existed for about a month. You heard that right: June 12, 2020 was the day that film, commercial and music video production guidelines were announced and the new required position had an official title. With COVID-19 Safe Set classes popping up around the internet, it can be hard to sort through candidates. Luckily, there are five things you can look for.

1. Proper certification

When resumes come flying across your desk, you’ll see different certification programs. What you want to look for are candidates who show a well rounded health and safety education. Here are a few programs that are great to see (and also worth taking yourself).

There is a wonderful Safe Set certification put out by Safe Set International that can be obtained in under one hour for free. This is a great resource for cast, crew and other personnel to begin to understand what our new set culture will look like. This training does not go into medical or procedural detail levels that an COVD-19 Safety Compliance Officer should know. Most COVID-19 safety education is published for free due to the intense need for information benefiting the public.

The Best COVID-19 Certification Programs

Below are a few certification programs that Safety Compliance Services recommends:

  • Health Education Services offers a two-hour COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officer training which is the most comprehensive program in the business right now. The course costs $50, provides you with an enormous amount of resources, and you have the opportunity to interact and ask questions of seasoned professionals.
  • Johns Hopkins University offers an extensive (and free) contact tracing course with several modules which provides meticulous training on contact tracing for COVID-19. At the end of the course you will not only be a certified contact tracer, but you will also learn about the timeline of the virus, procedures for those infected and those who have been potentially exposed, and the legal background of public health crises (HIPAA).
  • World Health Organization has a number of free modules and resources which are directed at - you guessed it - pandemics and health around the world. There are basic trainings on how to properly wash your hands and use PPE, some on methods of response and prevention, microbiology, and other medical based courses which are highly informative.
  • CSATF has a program in the works that will likely harbor strong union approval.
  • OSHA has a free COVID-19 Awareness training for the workplace, which is another great resource for cast, crew and other personnel.

Additionally, anyone who is focused on workplace safety should also have at least the OSHA 10 hour general worksite training under their belts. Though, this training is primarily focused on the construction industry the concepts of laws, regulation, and procedure still apply to the film and entertainment workplace.

2. A strong research ethic

In the age of the coronavirus, updates about the disease are released at lightning speeds. Classes or certifications you just took might have modules that become outdated overnight. Not to mention, state and county guidelines are invariably changing as the public and policy makers learn more about how the virus behaves and how it continues to affect us. Officers often have to strategize on their feet with changing and rapid production plans and help keep productions in line with current advice.

It is imperative that officers have a deep understanding of these guidelines. Your legal team will face new challenges with regard to liability AND production companies are now required to provide written safety plans to governing officials and their teams. In order to plan well, production companies often need to defer to their COVID-19 Safety Compliance expert for guidance in complying with your governing parties.

Additionally, your officer is the point person for your COVID-19 safety hotline to intercept angry neighbors and other concerned citizens. An officer needs to be able to field and answer accurately regarding organizational, public health and legal procedure for COVID-19 outbreaks on your set.

3. A robust production background

A great COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officer has a background in production. Some are set medics, some are RN’s, and some are people who have a strong production planning background who have taken the time to understand the disease from a medical and transmission viewpoint. That’s why the certification process is so important: the job of the COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officer is to know how the virus impacts OUR workplace and what to do in order to mitigate risk, and what to do if there is a case or if there has been contact with a case.

Film and entertainment is a unique workplace which takes a lot of determination to learn the in’s and out’s. Ideally, an officer has been involved with production planning and consulting regarding blocking, testing, sanitation procedures, and so forth.

COVID Safety Officers - On Set Protocols - Wrapbook
When it comes to the coronavirus, the fewer people on a shoot, the better.

But the officer really has to know what is going on in each department in order to help provide creative solutions. What if instead of Baby Houseman and Johnny Castle smooching in a dance studio it turns into titillating socially distant dance tease.

Okay, it may not be the same movie we all know and love. But you can create and cheat the same effects on camera.

An Appeal to Producers

Please try not to put your officers in a position where they are only reminding your team to keep their masks on and remain socially distant. It’s better to invest in the right protective measures and build strong relationships with your collaborators so that the whole team can be successful from beginning to end.

4. Crisis & personnel management training

Your officer and producer should work hand in hand to develop and execute on-set protocols and pre-production training for all on-site personnel. Additionally, if there is a COVID-19 outbreak on a set your officer should be able to immediately and efficiently initiate contact tracing protocols. They must also work with the company’s production and legal teams to manage claims and in order to stop the spread of the virus.

Education and communication are really important parts of the job. Producers set the tone of a production and ultimately are responsible for the enforcement of regulations.

Building strong relationships with officers and a strong plan of action will allow officers to spend more time with your cast and crew empowering them with the knowledge to self-regulate on set. It is impossible for an officer to be present to police every moment on set and frankly, no one has the patience for micromanagement on set.

5. Access to resources

A COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officer should also have a wide net of COVID-19 safety resources. While most are provided with many once their training is completed with Health Education Services, there are a lot of companies out there who are open, willing and able to be part of the solution.

COVID Safety Officers - COVID Filmmaking Resource Guide - Wrapbook
A snapshot of Wrapbook's COVID-19 Resources for Filmmakers

Now let's get into some COVID safety resources.

The Best COVID-19 Production Resources

Here are some of Safety Compliance Services’s favorites:

  • Pure Sets offers sanitation and testing services across the United States.
  • Everylywell has an at home test you can purchase which will return results 72 hours after the lab receives your sample.
  • The LA Testing Facility Database lists all open testing facilities in LA County. However, it is important to note when setting up testing through many of these sites that due to high demand results are beginning to take longer to receive (6-7 business days). Additionally, privatized testing facilities are in high demand so it becomes increasingly important to book your testing early.
  • Wrapbook has a great list of resources for every step of the production process and department. Now is a great time to go paperless with cloud-based software and on-boarding and HR processes. Less paper and less stuff means less opportunity for the virus to spread.
  • The EPA’s List of Disinfectants contains all disinfectants and sanitizers that are effective against COVID-19. Be sure to check your containers for the EPA registration number and plug it into the registration number search bar.
  • ProtectWall is a free health check app for you organization and employees provided by Microsoft and UnitedHealth Group. Due to high demand, their next appointments are available in the fall so be sure to register early.

As a production company, it is your responsibility to consider potential repercussions of your work with great care.

For example, if your employees are required to quarantine, who will help cover this cost? Are there resources to be able to quarantine? If there is an outbreak, do you have the resources to initiate contact tracing? Does your insurance cover COVID-19 outbreaks? What work can be done in pre-production that will save you any hassle when production is finished?

Wrapping Up

As production professionals, we are often working from a place of scarcity. There’s never enough money and never enough time. Producers are asked to perform the same amount of work with the same budget on the same timeline. The pandemic exacerbated this reality.

This article was written in the height of the pandemic, but as it slows down now, "getting back to normal," will likely mean defining a new normal. Re-imagining set safety may be our new reality and it should be something to embrace. We'll do our best to update this post as often as possible. The various unions will be meeting to discuss the future of COVID testing on set, which will help shape our new normal. We'll be providing more info on that soon. If you have any questions about COVID Safety Officers, feel free to reach out.

Last Updated 
August 17, 2020


At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Teresa Beardsley

Teresa is the founder and CEO of Safety Compliance Services LLC, which provides top tiered COVID-19 safety consulting and staffing for the entertainment workplace in Southern California. The company is union, OSHA, Department of Public Health, and CDC compliant.

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