First stuntman John Bernecker died in July after a fall on the set of "The Walking Dead." Then in August, Joi Harris died during a motorcycle stunt while filming "Deadpool 2." Two days later, Paramount Studios announced it had halted filming of "Mission: Impossible 6" because Tom Cruise had broken his ankle during a stunt.
The rash of accidents has made manifest the dangers of stunt work. But there have been few successful pushes over the years to further regulate the workplaces of stunt professionals, who, like circus acrobats, build careers atop a good measure of calculated risk.
"People imagine, 'Oh, well, they get hurt and that's what they signed up for,' which is an absurd presumption," said Andy Armstrong, a stunt coordinator involved in two of "The Amazing Spider-Man" movies. "You'd be surprised by how lax all the rules about these things are."
Unlike, say, mining and construction, there are no specific federal regulations for stunt work, just the more general rules that protect all employees from hazards. Anyone who questions whether stunt work deserves a more focused set of rules enters a debate, ongoing for years, between those who say not enough has been done to protect workers and those who say they do not see any need for further intervention.
"The regulations cover the majority of hazards I'm aware of," said Eric Berg, deputy chief of research and standards for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. He said that the standards covering workplace hazards across a wide range of industries are sufficient for the film industry.
"It's by hazard most of the time, rather than by industry," he said, "so regulations cover machine hazards, explosive hazards, fall hazards, flammable hazards, and those apply to motion picture sets."
Workplace safety injuries are hard to track. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data is largely self-reported by employers. Studies have posited that the data underestimate injuries and illnesses by 30 to 50 percent across all industries.
But even if the numbers are spotty, there is no data that suggest stunt-related injuries or deaths are on the rise, experts said. Before this summer, the last motion picture production-related death in the United States was three years ago.
The film industry issues its own extensive, though nonbinding, series of bulletins to regulate safety. When federal or state regulators cite safety violations — as they have after deaths, for example — the guidelines have been referenced as part of an effort to show that industry standards were not followed.
Still, some industry veterans argue the guidelines are not enough.
"You can be on the 70th floor of the building, and maybe you're supposed to be wearing safety equipment, but who's checking?" said Joni Avery, a stuntwoman and stunt coordinator who retired four years ago. At 59, Avery has had nine surgeries and broke her back on the set of "Blues Brothers 2000" in a staged car turnover, she said.
Some stunt workers, though, feel the existing protections are sufficient. "Everyone takes the proper precautions," said Jwaundace Candece, who specializes in driving and motorcycle stunts. "We're above and beyond safe."
Armstrong said that competency ranges widely among stunt coordinators and could be improved with licensing.
"There are a lot of fantastically skilled and talented people working safely," he said, "but there are also a lot of people relying on luck."
Ray Rodriguez, chief contracts officer of SAG-AFTRA, said the union has not taken a position on stunt coordinator licensing because a division remains on whether such certification is necessary.
Some industry veterans say many stunt professionals share in a culture of bravado that says one should push through pain rather than vocally press for change.
"You have a lot of old-school guys and gals from way back who feel like you keep your mouth shut, you work, you get hurt anyway, and that's part the deal," said Avery, who said she once hid a broken arm to remain working. "I was part of that whole mentality. It's just self-preservation, and it all comes down to being afraid you won't get work."