WASH, DC – Stalwart Films LLC, the production company for The Walking Dead television series, is facing $12,675 in OSHA penalties following the death of a stuntman in July 2017 who fell 30 ft. from a balcony while rehearsing a fight scene with an actor during filming in Senoia, Ga.
33-year-old John Bernecker, a native of New Orleans, sustained massive head trauma as a result of the fall and was pronounced dead at Atlanta Medical Center, according to news reports and IMDB. An airbag had been placed below him, but he missed it, striking his head on the ground.
Bernecker had more than 90 stunt credits to his name, including blockbusters Logan, Get Out, The Fate of the Furious and the upcoming Black Panther. A résumé posted on iStunt.com listed “high fall” as one of his more than two dozen stunt skills.
OSHA cited the company for “failing to protect employees from fall hazards” during shooting and issued a “serious citation” – while imposing the maximum allowable fine.
Stalwart Films released a statement in response:
“This was a tragic and terrible accident. We take the safety of our employees extremely seriously on all of our sets and comply with – and frequently exceed – industry safety standards. We disagree with the issuance of this citation and are considering our response.”
OSHA has made the following recommendations to reduce the hazards in similar circumstances:
- Reduce the stunt fall distance to the minimum required for the particular scene and utilize an appropriate free-fall catch system;
- Use a free-fall catch system whose size and design that takes into account free-fall distance, the performers unique, physical characteristics, trajectory and foreseeable worker error or mishap;
- Provide an adequate number of spotters equipped with individual cash pads, or other equipment, such as guidelines, to protect performers and correct the trajectory of a misaligned fall;
- Secure the services of an independent safety specialist to assess the potential hazards associated with each proposed stunt and develop appropriate risk reduction strategies for implementation;
- Provide and require the use of appropriate personal protective equipment that may reduce the risk to performers engaged in stunts; and
- Use a restraint and deceleration system to prevent performer contact with the ground.
The company has 15 days to request an informal conference with OSHA, contest the findings, or comply with the citation.