Oscars blunder and a real Hollywood tragedy – Asbestos snow!

Oscars 2017 – PwC blunder

What a week it has been for Hollywood. Oscars 2017 will forever be remembered as the night that the film community went “La La” after accountants and management consultancy firm PwC managed to screw up the simple task of handing over an envelope to Warren Beatty.

But, tragic as this might have seemed, especially for the cast and crew of La La Land who having been announced winners had to hand over their golden statue to their colleagues from the film Moonlight, it’s really nothing compared to the poor people who worked on film sets in the post was era. Most people will remember The Wizard of Oz. Some may also remember the scene in which Dorothy an her companions, having been placed under a sleep spell by the Wicked Witch, began getting snowed on whilst lying unconscious. In another film of that era, Holiday Inn starring Bing Crosby ended with snow falling all around as Bing sang White Christmas.

Asbestos snow in popular use

The snow effects in both films were in fact created by showering the cast with chrysotile asbestos fibres, which resembles snow and was often used in those days not only on movie sets and in theatres but in department stores and even in private homes. From the mid 1930s through to the 1950s, asbestos was seen as a very versatile and harmless substance, it was also very cheap!

However as we now know, asbestos is far from harmless. The shocking truth of just how dangerous can be brought home by comparing fatalities from different causes.

UK deaths from asbestos

Traffic fatalities UK – 2015. There were 1,732 reported road deaths in 2015, a decrease of 2% compared with 2014. This is the second lowest annual total on record after 2013. There were 45 per cent fewer fatalities in 2015 than a decade earlier in 2006. Much of this decrease can be put down to the range of inovations made by policy makers and vehicle designers/manufacturers in the intervening years, as well as actions taken by drivers themselves to reduce risks.

Fatalities at work UK – 2015. The figure of 144 worker deaths in 2015/16 is 7% lower than the average for the past five years (155). The latest rate of fatal injury of 0.46 compares to the five-year average rate of 0.52. Again it is possible to argue that this is the result of a whole range of health and safety related actions having been taken.

However, and here is the real Hollywood style shocker, fatalities due to asbestos related diseases UK are expected to be greater than 4,500. This figure continues to rise each year with the peak expected in the next 5 – 10 years.

This is where asbestos awareness comes in. Every employer must make sure that anyone who is liable to disturb asbestos during their normal work, or who supervises those employees, gets the correct level of information, instruction and training so that they can work safely and competently without risk to themselves or others.

Don’t let your staff become the victims of an avoidable tragedy. Get asbestos aware. Use the BusinessBlocs Health and Safety and COSHH tools to help with your risk assessments and planning actions to avoid and/or mitigate risks.

Further reading

EM1 Asbestos Essentials: What to do if you uncover or damage materials that may contain asbestoshttp://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/guidance/em1.pdf

Face Fit Testing : Respiratory protective equipment at work http://www.hse.gov.uk/pUbns/priced/hsg53.pdf

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