Field Safety and Peer Support: Tips from an ABC Cameraman

Peter Drought, a Melbourne-based Camera Operator, has worked in the news industry for 25 years. At the start of his career, he glamorized crews that filmed on the front lines, but he says he wasn’t prepared for some of the more difficult aspects of the job – witnessing death, experiencing abuse, or dealing with a family who recently lost a child. He saw his colleagues fall into habits of drinking and smoking, but was sure there were other ways to cope. 

Today, Drought is a Health and Safety Representative and Peer Supporter for ABC News. In a recent interview with ABC Back Story, Drought discussed the emotional impact of covering the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires, and shared advice for colleagues on working safely in the field and managing job-related trauma. Click below to watch the full video interview, and scroll down for a selection of tips from Drought. 

  1. Conduct a risk assessment.
    “Every job you do, you should do a risk assessment in your head about it. That might extend to doing a risk assessment with the journalist or the producer you’re working with. And it might extend to the point of actually filling out the new risk assessment forms. Every crew person has a right to say no to any job that they feel unsafe about. They have a right to question what they’re doing. It’s not about saying I don’t want to do this, unless it’s blatantly unsafe. But, it’s about doing it the safest way possible.”
  2. Remain aware of your surroundings. 
    “There are some younger cameramen who will go along to jobs and they’re more intent on playing around on their phone or whatever else. And [being aware] is incredibly important, because there are certain scenarios that can change so quickly. And nine times out of ten, the experienced camera guys will know which way something is going to go.”
  3. Eat healthy, stay hydrated, take breaks, and communicate with your crew.
    “In bushfires and in floods, in any of those natural disaster environments, you’re working really long hours. But, you still need to manage those hours that you are working. And if you start to experience things that you feel like you’re not coping with or you’re seeing things that you feel like you’re not necessarily dealing with, you need to let people know as soon as you can. And it should never be seen as a sign of weakness.”
  4. Don’t be afraid to talk about the trauma you’ve experienced.
    “The best way that I found for me [to deal with trauma] is talking about it. A lot of people sometimes think, maybe I’m not cut out for this. And sometimes they’re not. But, it’s okay to feel yucky about it. It’s okay to maybe not sleep for a night or two about things that you see or experience. It’s all normal behavior.”
  5. Never forget the importance of personal safety.
    “People who work in news, they want to do news. We want to be out there doing this. It’s what we love. It’s what we’re passionate about. But, we also want to come home. And so we want to find the best way to do the job that we can safely and deliver the best quality product that we can to the news division and the viewer. And at the end of the day no job is worth getting injured over.”