The producers of “The Walking Dead” have been fined for serious violations related to the death of stuntman John Bernecker on July 12 in Senoia.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Stalwart Films LLC for failing to protect employees from fall hazards while filming the television show. Since 2011, “The Walking Dead” has been based at the former Riverwood Studios/Raleigh Studios Atlanta, just outside Senoia.
Filming takes place at the studio as well as various locations in the area. AMC Networks purchased the studio over the summer. The sale was finalized days after Bernecker’s death.
According to the citation issued last week, the employer, Stalwart Films, “did not furnish employment and a place of employment which was free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
On July 12, Bernecker, an experienced stuntman, and an actor were doing a fall scene from a balcony at the studio, located at 600 Chestlehurst Road. Bernecker was supposed to fall over a railing and land on a large safety pad.
But something went wrong during the attempt and, according to the call placed to Coweta 911, it appeared that Bernecker tried to abort the fall by grabbing onto the railing, but he slammed into the bottom of the balcony and lost his grip. He landed headfirst on the concrete floor below, missing the safety pad by inches.
According to the citation, Stalwart Films has until Jan. 30 pay the fine and document it is taking action to reduce hazards, contest the citation, or request a conference with OSHA.
The citation suggests “some feasible and acceptable means of abatement” including reducing the fall distance, using a “free fall catch system whose size and design… takes into account free fall distance, the performer’s unique physical characteristics trajectory and foreseeable employee error or mishap,” providing spotters with individual crash pads or other equipment to protect performers and correct the trajectory or a misaligned fall, using a system to prevent performer contact with the ground, or providing appropriate personal protective equipment.
“This tragedy should serve as a wake-up call for the entertainment industry,” OSHA Atlanta Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer said in a press release. “The entire industry needs to commit to safety practices for actors and stunt people involved in this type of work.”
The fine is $12,675, the maximum for a serious violation.
According to “Deadline.com,” Stalwart Films said in a release that it disagreed with the issuance of the citation and is considering its response.
“We take the safety of our employees extremely seriously on all of our sets and comply with – and frequently exceed – industry safety standards,” the company said in the statement.
Bernecker’s mother, Susan Bernecker, told “Deadline.com” that Hollywood covers up safety issues the same way it has covered up sexual harassment. She told the publication that over the last 10 years, she heard her son and his friends talking about unsafe conditions “all of the time.”
Susan Bernecker said that her son walked away from two jobs as a stunt coordinator when he felt that the production companies weren’t putting enough money in the budget to protect the stunt performers.
She said she wants to do something about safety conditions in the industry.
“This should not have happened,” she told “Deadline.” “This was not the kind of stunt you should be killed on … so I’m going to try to change things.”
The John Bernecker Foundation has been created to create solutions for the safety of movie and television performers. His mother has also created a website in his memory, livelikejohnbernecker.com