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Safety violations led to stuntwoman's death on Deadpool set: WorkSafeBC

Company failed to design set with safety controls, ensure helmet use
By Laura Kane (The Canadian Press)
| www.cos-mag.com
Rei Imagine / Shutterstock.com

VANCOUVER (CP) — The production company behind the superhero hit Deadpool 2 violated a number of safety rules that contributed to the death of a stuntwoman, says British Columbia's workplace safety agency.

SJ Harris died after she was thrown from a motorcycle and crashed into the ground-floor window of a building in Vancouver on Aug. 14, 2017, says an investigation report by WorkSafeBC released Wednesday.

The report outlines multiple failures committed by TCF Vancouver Productions Ltd., a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox, including that it did not ensure Harris was wearing a helmet as required by regulations and the motorcycle manufacturer.

The company also didn't conduct a risk assessment addressing safety controls, motorcycle speed and equipment limitations or ensure that Harris was provided with new worker orientation and adequate supervision, the report says.

The report adds that TCF failed to ensure that the set was designed with safety controls so Harris or the motorcycle could not proceed beyond the perimeter of the set.

The company violated five sections of B.C.'s Workers Compensation Act as well as its own internal health and safety regulations, the report states.

WorkSafeBC said in a news release that it's now considering a penalty based on the findings of the report.

In a statement, a spokesperson for 20th Century Fox said: ``Safety is our top priority, and while we respectfully disagree with some of the report's findings, Fox thoroughly reviewed its stunt safety protocols immediately following the tragic accident and has revised and implemented enhanced safety procedures and enforcement.''

It did not elaborate on the findings it disagreed with in the WorkSafeBC report.

TCF could not be reached for comment. The report says TCF operates out of Mammoth Studios in Burnaby, B.C., but a woman who answered the phone at the studio said no one affiliated with TCF or the Deadpool 2 production remained on site.

The B.C. coroner's service has said Harris, 40, of New York City, died at the scene. Friends have described her as a pioneering motorcycle racer who was an inspiration to African-American women pursuing the sport.

The WorkSafeBC report says she was an experienced motorcycle racer but had no prior experience as a stunt double in the film industry. She was assigned the task of riding a motorcycle out of the Vancouver Convention Centre as part of a stunt sequence being filmed, it says.

The scene required Harris to ride through the exit doors, narrowly missing a stunt man and causing him to drop an ice cream cone. She was then to make a left-hand turn, ride down a set of outdoor stairs and stop, the report says. It says the set was in a controlled area with no vehicle or pedestrian traffic, and a wooden ramp was placed over the stairs.

Harris rehearsed the scene about seven times, beginning at quarter speed and progressing to the full speed of 20 to 25 kilometres per hour, the report says.

Two other stunt performers and another crew member told WorkSafeBC that they saw Harris ``grabbing'' or ``stabbing'' the front brake of the motorcycle as she was stopping on the ramp, causing the front wheel to lock up and make the motorcycle unstable.

The report says after some discussion, a second transition ramp was installed over a second set of outdoor stairs, just below the first set, to provide Harris with more distance to slow and avoid unsafe braking before stopping. No barriers were put in place. The entire incident was captured on video with audio, and the report summarizes what happened.

When Harris transitioned onto the first ramp, the front wheel became airborne and as it landed, the rear wheel became airborne. When the rear wheel landed, the motorcycle accelerated, resulting in a loss of control, the report says. It says the motorcycle continued to speed up as it proceeded over the second ramp, becoming airborne.

Harris was hanging on to the handlebars as her body bounced off the motorcycle seat and her feet were completely off the foot pegs, the report says, before the motorcycle struck a median on the road and ejected her. She struck the branches of a tree and then crashed through the window of Shaw Tower, striking her head on the window frame. The motorcycle continued on until it collided with the sidewalk curb, destroying the front wheel, the report says.

Members of the Vancouver Police Department who were on site called 911 and paramedics arrived soon after. The incident was investigated by Vancouver police, the coroner's service and WorkSafeBC.

The report says no risk assessment was done to determine at what speed the motorcycle would become airborne as it travelled off the first ramp, nor to see if the addition of a second ramp would cause Harris to travel over the first ramp at a greater speed.

The Ducati motorcycle selected for use in the scene is designed to navigate on smooth surfaces and certain adjustments made to the bike meant it was a ``poor choice'' for use in situations where it may fly into the air, the report says.

For the remainder of the production, TCF did not use Ducati motorcycles and operators in all motorcycle-related sequences wore helmets, the report notes.

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