Accidental Shooting on Rust: Asking the Right Question

As details emerge about the accidental shooting on the movie set of Rust, two questions are being asked:

  • Who is responsible?
  • How strong is the safety culture on movie sets?

The first question will solve a very narrow problem, and the answer is unlikely to prevent another tragedy. On the other hand, focussing on the second question can address the root cause of all accidents on movie sets.

In many organizations, internal investigations focus only on the first question. Not surprisingly, the same type of wrongdoing happens over and over again. What management needs to understand is that when investigators turn over their final reports, it is not the end of the matter. The report should signal the start of a conversation that aims to answer “What is it about our culture that allowed this to happen?”

Here is what Maggie Goll, a prop maker, had to say about Dave Halls, the crew member who gave Alec Baldwin a gun loaded with live rounds, just after yelling “cold gun”, indicating that the gun was safe:

“This situation is not about Dave Halls. … It’s in no way one person’s fault,” she said. “It’s a bigger conversation about safety on set and what we are trying to achieve with that culture.”


As I’ve said many times on this blog, culture is an outcome of your processes. In a strong safety culture, Halls would have double-checked the gun, then Baldwin would have done the same. Chamber open, barrel inspected, light flashed inside the barrel to make sure that it was clear. Without safety processes that are followed by everyone, you cannot claim to have a safety culture.

Focussing on safety culture is how you significantly reduce accidents on movie sets — and in all organizations.

Similarly, focussing on ethical culture is how you significantly reduce wrongdoing at your company.

Don’t stop at “Who done it?” Ask the culture question too.

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