UPDATED with detailed summary of the investigation: 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 stardard industry practices were followed, the fatal shooting of Halyna Hutching and the serious injury to Joel Souza would not have occurred.”
Read the report summary here; a detailed summary with the Bureau’s key findings, conclusions and recommendations is below.
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 D.A. continue their probe into possible criminal charges. Several civil lawsuits 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 indemnify himself against being held legally accountable for the tragedy.
Here is the summary of the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau’s investigation and its key findings, conclusions and recommendations — followed by the Kenney video:
The firearm involved in the accident is a modern replica of a Colt .45 caliber revolver, “Long Colt” in style. Rust had 13 such revolvers for the production in total, from manufacturers Piette, Uberti, and Cimarron. In film, firearms are typically controlled by the “Props Department,” with the individual responsible for handling firearms and ammunition titled “Armorer” or “Weapons Handler.” The Armorer for this film was Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, and her immediate supervisor was Sarah Zachary, Props Master (or Property Master). Nicole Montoya, Props Assistant, provided support to Zachary and Gutierrez-Reed. The Rust Props Department was small, and for administrative purposes was placed under the “Art Department” headed by Bryan Norvelle, who provided support for Props but rarely worked with Zachary or Gutierrez-Reed.
Ryan Smith, Producer, was identified as overseeing the overall production. A management representative for Rust was Gabrielle Pickle, Line Producer, who directly hired individuals and crews, approved hours worked, and had authority to counsel or discipline employees in any department. Her immediate subordinate was Katherine “Row” Walters, Unit Production Manager, who shared similar authority. Also on the management team was Dave Halls, 1st Assistant Director and Safety Coordinator, who was the set manager and responsible for general workplace safety, who was peer in authority to Gabrielle Pickle and Row Walters.
Alec Baldwin, Actor and Producer, and Joel Souza, Director, negotiated with various producers to help create and fund the Rust project. Alec Baldwin’s authority on the set included approving script changes and actor candidates. Alec Baldwin handled the revolver and fired the round that struck and injured Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza.
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed reported to Sarah Zachary for direction on daily tasks; Sarah Zachary reported to Bryan Norvelle; Bryan Norvelle reported to Row Walters; and Row Walters reported to Gabrielle Pickle. Due to the nature of her position as the sole Armorer for Rust, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed regularly corresponded with Gabrielle Pickle directly via text messages and emails. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed performed armorer duties such as demonstrating that a firearm was “cold” or “hot,” with Dave Halls. Dave Halls was also responsible for identifying and correcting hazardous conditions related to firearms safety.
As Armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was responsible for storage, maintenance, and handling of firearms and ammunition on set, and for training members of the cast who would be handling firearms. In accordance with Rust safety procedures and industry-recognized safety practice, the Armorer is required to be present whenever firearms are being handled and should have the authority to determine whether an individual requires additional safety training. However, Rust also required Hannah Gutierrez-Reed to perform the role of Props Assistant to Sarah Zachary when firearms were not in active use. In an email conversation that occurred on October 10, 2021, Gabrielle Pickle informed Hannah Gutierrez-Reed that she was allowed 8 paid days at the Armorer’s rate in her contract to perform Armorer tasks, and the rest of her time was to be spent as a Props Assistant.
Rust ordered ammunition, with the intent to receive blank and dummy rounds, from PDQ Arm & Props, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Property Master stated that Rust did not intend to have live rounds on the set. Live rounds may be distinguishable from dummy rounds by either a small hole in the brass cartridge (indicating that there is no powder), by a missing or dimpled primer at the bottom of the cartridge, or by shaking the round and hearing the distinct clatter of a BB within. Unless a round is removed from a storage box or firearm and inspected, it can’t be verified as a dummy round.
On October 14, 2021, Gabriel Pickle emailed Hannah Gutierrez-Reed addressing Armorer and Key Assistant Props duties and stating, “…it has been brought to my attention that you are focusing far more on Armor and not supporting props as needed.” In the same email, Ms. Pickle informed Ms. Gutierrez-Reed that the “Production and AD team have seen twice that there was a shotgun left unattended after a scene.” Ms. Pickle went on to state that she needed ”…some type of check in / out system put in place immediately.” Ms. Gutierrez-Reed responded by email the same day stating that the Armorer job was “…a very serious job and since we’ve started I’ve had a lot of days where my job should only be to focus on the guns and everyone’s safety.” Ms. Gutierrez-Reed later in the same email stated, “there are working guns on set every day and those are ultimately going to be a priority because when they are not that’s when dangerous mistakes can happen.”
On October 16, 2021, there were two firearms misfires on the Rust set. In the first instance, Sarah Zachary inadvertently fired a blank round as she finished loading a .45 caliber revolver that was aimed at the ground. To return the hammer to the closed position and make the firearm safe, the operator must hold the hammer and depress the trigger, guiding the hammer to the closed position deliberately. In the case of the first misfire, the hammer slipped from Ms. Zachary’s thumb or fingers, likely resulting in the firing pin on the hammer striking the primer which ignited the powder, firing the blank round.
The second misfire on October 16, 2021, involved Blake Teixiera, Stunt Double for Alec Baldwin, and a lever action rifle of unknown make and model. It is not known how the misfire happened, as according to some statements he was alone in “the cabin”, and others state he was not alone. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed stated that Blake Teixiera’s only comment was “it just went off.” Hannah Gutierrez-Reed described that it is probable the rifle fired by being placed onto the ground too roughly.
On October 17, 2021, Hanna Gutierrez-Reed sent a text message to Gabrielle Pickle stating, “Hey, we’re on day 8 of Armor days. So if there’s gunfire after this you may want to talk to the producers.” Ms. Pickle replied the same day that there would be “No more trading (sic) days.” Ms. Gutierrez-Reed then asked to clarify, “Training days?” Ms. Pickle responded, “Like training Alec and such.”
On October 20, 2021, Lane Luper, 1st Assistant Camera, resigned citing safety concerns among other issues and stated in an email to Row Walters, “During the filming of gunfights on this job things are often played very fast and loose. So far, there have been 2 accidental weapons discharges and 1 accidental SFX explosive that have gone off around the crew between takes.” Mr. Luper went on to state, “To be clear there are NO safety meetings these days. There have been NO explanations as to what to expect for these shots.”
On October 21, 2021, Dave Halls handed the 0.45 caliber Colt revolver, loaded with what he assumed were dummy rounds, to Alec Baldwin. Mr. Baldwin aimed the revolver toward Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza and a projectile was fired, striking Ms. Hutchins and Mr. Souza.
As a result of the inspection, OHSB determined that Rust was responsible for a serious violation of the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Act (“the Act”). While no specific state or federal OSHA standards exist for firearms used in the film industry, it is clear both the employer and the film industry recognized the hazard associated with the use of firearms on movie sets, and the potential for serious injury to employees. Further, Rust demonstrated plain indifference to the safety of employees by ignoring recognized hazards inherent to the use of firearms and ammunition by failing to take appropriate corrective or investigative actions after two firearms-related incidents (misfires) occurred on October 16, 2021, and after employee(s) notified management that they did not feel safe with how weapons were being handled on set. Rust failed to follow company safety procedures, which likely would have prevented the accident from occurring.
Rust management did not ensure their own safety procedures, taken from film industry “safety bulletins” issued by the Industry Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee, were followed at the worksite. According to the “General Safe Practices” document provided by Rust, “…the following safety bulletins were taken into consideration during the course of production: ‘Recommendations for Safety with Firearms and Use of ‘Blank Ammunition’.’’ Additionally, on January 7, 2022, Rust’s attorneys informed NMED that the Safety Bulletins used on set included “Recommendations for Safety with Firearms and Use of ‘Blank Ammunition’.’’ Rust’s use of procedures from Safety Bulletin #1, Recommendations for Safety with Firearms and Use of Blank Ammunition (Bulletin #1), and Rust’s failures to effectively implement those procedures, included the following:
Rust did not provide staff responsible for ensuring firearms safety with sufficient time to inspect ammunition received to ensure that no live rounds were present.
The first misfire, which occurred on October 16, 2021, presented a hazard to Sarah Zachary and any employees nearby. Rust failed to address the hazardous condition and reinforce adherence with their own protocols to protect workers.
Rust management, including Gabrielle Pickle and Row Walters, ignored concerns of firearm misfires on set according to statements taken by OHSB. Dave Halls, the Safety Coordinator, was present on set when the first accidental discharge occurred; Mr. Halls did not discuss the incident with staff, report the incident to Rust producers, review the incident as Safety Coordinator, ensure Sarah Zachary took appropriate actions with respect to safety protocols, or take any other corrective measures. According to employees interviewed, including Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, crew members verbally expressed their surprise and discomfort with Rust management’s lack of action regarding the worksite safety issue.
Rust initiated no investigative action for the second firearm misfire on October 16, 2021, beyond Hannah Gutierrez-Reed asking Blake Teixiera how it happened. Dave Halls was present during the incident and did not speak with either Hannah Gutierrez-Reed or Blake Teixiera. Lane Luper, 1st Assistant Camera, texted Row Walters informing her, “We’ve now had 3 accidental discharges. This is super unsafe.” The third discharge involved a Special Effects “popper,” which is a small explosive that simulates a bullet impact on a surface. Row Walters responded, “Accidental discharge on the firearms?” Luper responded, “Yeah 2 discharges today and 1 on week 1.” Row Walters did not ask any additional questions to try to understand what had occurred. Despite being informed of the misfires, and that at least one employee expressed not feeling safe, Rust management took no corrective action.
Rust recognized the hazards associated with firearms and adopted safety bulletins that were designed to control and mitigate these hazards. Rust described these protocols as being enforced by the 1st Assistant Director, who is the Safety Coordinator. Ryan Smith, Producer, also stated during the Closing Conference that all members of cast and crew have stop-work authority. Despite this, no corrective, investigative, or disciplinary action was taken after the first and second firearms misfires by any member of management. Dave Halls, 1st Assistant Director and Safety Coordinator, was physically present and witnessed these misfires, and chose not to take any corrective, investigative, or disciplinary action. When the Unit Production Manager, Row Walters, was informed by the Props Master and the 1st Assistant Camera that weapons misfires had occurred, Walters did not initiate any corrective, investigative or disciplinary action in accordance with Rust’s safety procedures.
When the 1st Assistant Camera resigned, informing management that there was an ongoing lack of firearms safe practices (among other labor issues) and that misfires had occurred, Rust management took no action to review or address worker safety concerns. When the Armorer had used most of their contractually limited “Armorer Days,” they were issued a written instruction to focus less on their Armorer tasks and spend more time assisting the Props Department. When the Armorer expressed a need to ensure actors be able to safely handle a firearm with a holster, they were told by the Line Producer that the Armorer would be informed if that was necessary. When the Armorer was scheduled to train the stunt crew on firearms safety, she was told that the Stunt Coordinator would handle that instead.
The Employer, Rust Movie Productions, LLC, demonstrated plain indifference to the hazards associated with firearms by routinely failing to practice their own safety protocols, failing to enforce adherence to safety protocols, and failing to ensure that the handling of deadly weapons was afforded the time and effort needed to keep the cast and crew safe. Additionally, the Employer disregarded or otherwise did not follow-up, ask questions, or try to understand what happened when employees notified management about the misfire incidents and not feeling safe on set. The Safety Coordinator was present on set and took no direct action to address safety concerns. Management was provided multiple opportunities to take corrective actions and chose not to do so. As a result of these failures, Director Joel Souza and Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins were severely injured. Halyna Hutchins succumbed to her injuries on October 21, 2021.
Based on the above findings, I recommend a Willful-Serious citation with penalties be issued to Rust Movie Productions, LLC, citing the plain indifference to the recognized hazards associated with the use of firearms on set, to which their employees were exposed.
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