How to deal with getting injured at work
Health and safety is getting an increasingly bad reputation in this country, and it's very easy to see why. However, many of the rules and regulations really are there to keep you safe. Whatever discipline you focus on all performance has a physical element and few of us will get through a career without some kind of work related injury. Most of the time this will be something minor that can be worked around while you recover, but it is worth knowing what to do if something more serious happens.
First of all, as far as I am concerned this is one of the primary reasons ALL professional actors should be members of Equity. There are insurances built into your membership that can be an enormous help if something serious happens. In one real life instance an actor suffered an injury during a performance and, because of complications in diagnosis and recovery, they were out of action for around 18 months. After contacting Equity they found that they were covered for the first year and received payments of £125 a week - it might not sound like much but it's better than you'll get on benefits! Furthermore, they were also able to offer advice on how to approach a legal claim that became necessary. This can be a really daunting task and it's always good to have someone fighting your corner.
Of course, there are loads of things that you can do to help yourself:
ASK - it can feel a bit pushy to ask about health and safety assessments but it's perfectly reasonable of you to want to be sure all the checks have been done to make sure you're safe. An injured actor is never going to be working at full capacity, if they're working at all, and that's no use to anyone.
VOICE ISSUES - it can feel like whining to speak up when something hurts and a lot of people don't want to say anything to avoid censure, but think of it like this: if it hurts in rehearsals how painful is it going to be after 5, 20, 50, 100 shows? Will that little niggle turn into a major injury? Although part of the team's job is to keep you safe they can only act if they know there's a problem.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK - yes, health and safety is boring. No, you don't want to spend loads of time reading about it BUT if you know the basics of how to keep yourself safe doing activities that come up all the time like moving set or jumping off a stage you can do a lot to protect yourself, even when you are working with a less than brilliant team. Also, this is where doing courses in things like Stage Combat can really pay off - if you know how to do something safely you will be able to do it for much longer.
ACCIDENT BOOK - this is something that a lot of companies don't even think about this but it is actually a legal requirement and can be called for if anything needs following up. If you have an accident, even a minor one, it should be logged. It might be worth considering what it means if a company have chosen not to have one...
CLAIM - I know there are lots of negative connotations to making claims after accidents but sometimes it actually is appropriate. If you have been genuinely injured in a way that has had a significant impact on you it is worth finding out about. It's amazing how much even a relatively minor problem can cost you when you're working freelance and don't get sick pay. If an employer is properly insured claiming for a work injury should be quite similar to making an insurance claim after a car accident. Again, you might want to consider the implications if they haven't bothered to get the right insurance.
BENEFITS - If you are injured at work there are a number of benefits you might be entitled to: Disability Living Allowance (DLA), soon to become Personal Independence Payment (PIP); Employment and Support Allowance (ESA); Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB). If you're not sure what you're entitled to there's a Benefit's Adviser on the HMRC website and you can always talk to your local Citizen's Advice Bureau.
SAY NO - We spend so much time as actors being trained to say yes but sometimes a director or other team members are just being unreasonable. Be brave, don't be bullied.