‘Rust’ Production Company Fined Nearly $137,000 For “Willful & Serious” Safety Violations

The company that produced the ill-fated Rust movie has been slapped with a fine of $136,793 by the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau for its “willful and serious” violation of workplace safety procedures. The fine, which is the maximum allowable, follows the Bureau’s six-month investigation into the circumstances leading up to the accidental shooting that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza on October 21.

“There were serious management failures,” Environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said in a video statement (watch it below), “and more than sufficient evidence to suggest that if standard industry practices were followed, the fatal shooting of Halyna Hutching and the serious injury to Joel Souza would not have occurred.”

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Read the report summary here.

Hutchins and Souza were stuck by a bullet fired from gun held by Alec Baldwin, who has said that he was told that the gun was not loaded. He has also claimed that he did not pull the trigger and that it must have misfired as he pointed the gun toward the camera during rehearsals at the Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe.

The report concludes that Rust Movie Productions LLC’s management “knew that firearm safety procedures were not being followed on set and demonstrated plain indifference to employee safety by failing to review work practices and take corrective action.”

The production company was issued a “Willful-Serious citation” that includes a $136,793 civil penalty. “This is the highest level of citation and maximum fine allowable by state law in New Mexico,” the Bureau said in a statement. “Rust Movie Productions, LLC was cited for the plain indifference to the recognized hazards associated with the use of firearms on set that resulted in a fatality, severe injury, and unsafe working conditions.”

“While the film industry has clear national guidelines for firearms safety, Rust Movie Productions, LLC failed to follow these guidelines or take other effective measures to protect workers,” the Bureau said. “Rust Movie Productions, LLC’s documents indicate that it would follow the Industry Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee’s Safety Bulletin #1, ‘Recommendations for Safety With Firearms and Use of ‘Blank Ammunition,’ but failed to adhere to these guidelines on set. The guidelines require live ammunition “never to be used nor brought onto any studio lot or stage,” that safety meetings take place every day when firearms are being handled, and that employees ‘refrain from pointing a firearm at anyone’ except after consultation with the Property Master, Armorer or other safety representative, such as the First Assistant Director. By failing to follow these practices, an avoidable loss of life occurred.”

“Our investigation found that this tragic incident never would have happened if Rust Movie Productions, LLC had followed national film industry standards for firearm safety,” Kenney said. “This is a complete failure of the employer to follow recognized national protocols that keep employees safe.”

OHSB administers the Occupational Safety and Health Administration program in the State of New Mexico. This civil investigation was conducted pursuant to 50-9-17 NMSA, which requires OHSB to issue a citation within six months following the occurrence of any violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act or rules. OHSB’s authority is to evaluate actions of the employer to determine if the Act was violated. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office and Santa Fe County District Attorney are conducting independent investigations into the fatality. The criminal investigation is ongoing and unrelated to today’s citation.

Under federal requirements, Rust Movie Productions, LLC has 15 business days after receiving the citation to either pay the penalty and provide OHSB with certification of corrective action, or to contest the citation with the Occupational Health and Safety Review Commission. Should the production of this film resume in the future, Rust Movie Productions, LLC is required to abate the violations referred to in this citation before resuming operations.

“Employees should speak up about unsafe workplace conditions or report them anonymously to us,” said OHSB Bureau Chief Robert Genoway. “As a reminder, it is illegal for any employer to retaliate against any employee who alleges a workplace safety violation.”

The investigation encompassed 1,560 hours of staff time, 14 interviews, and review of 566 documents.

The report comes as the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department and the local DA continue their probe into possible criminal charges. Several civil law suits have also been filed, including a wrongful death suit by the family of Hutchins against Baldwin, other Rust producers and crew. Baldwin, who produced and starred in the doomed production, has sought to defend himself against being held legally accountable for the tragedy.

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