The Tragedy On The Movie Set of RUST and Why It Matters to Industrial Worksites

January 17, 2022

In 2021 a tragic accident occurred on the set of a film in production in New Mexico. The movie was a western theme drama, starring Alec Baldwin and others. As Alec rehearsed for a scene involving a close-up discharge of his weapon, the gun fired with a live bullet instead of a blank, and fatally wounded the cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins. Since that moment, so many questions have been asked. How could this happen? Who is responsible? What safety protocols were missed?

Looking back, there appears to be a series of leading indicators that, if fully examined, may have prevented this terrible scenario. As reported by ABC News, on the set of Rush the production execs allegedly brushed off several safety complaints, including over-worked employees driving very late at night and having their lodging requests denied. Most importantly, two accidental discharges of two different weapons occurred on set. These complaints, or near-misses, were not handled strategically and several employees expressed that they were not heard and even wrote a letter citing their concerns. While the Rust production stated over and over again that their first priority was the safety of the crew, the details brought to light by the workers show a different reality. One that is all too common in many organizations. There’s a clear disconnect between SAYING you put safety first and building a culture where safety IS the priority. Words don’t save lives, actions do. 

If a company states they put employee safety first, it must be backed up by taking the actions to support it. Wearable technology available today can gather data in real time that has predictive value in understanding potential risks and hazards. Just as important, it also shows a visible commitment to safety. Workers wearing a MākuSafe armband, for example, visibly demonstrates that management is willing to invest in their safety and protect them throughout their shift. The data that is gathered is made immediately actionable and enables proactive investigation and mitigation of issues, before incidents result. This visible effort can contribute to building a safety culture, facilitating front line conversations and embracing near-miss reports as leading indicator data that can help improve a safety management system. 

Tragically, the fatal accident on the set of Rust, cannot be undone, but hopefully it shines a spotlight on safety issues in all workplaces, including movie sets and beyond.

NOTE: At the time of this posting, the on-set armorer has filed a lawsuit against the ammunition supplier in this case. The details, interviews and timeline of events on the set of Rust provided by ABC News report.