The recent discovery of asbestos near to Elstree Studios, where Eastenders and Holby City is filmed, caused concern for the cast’s health and safety earlier this week. Reports in the press claimed they may have been exposed to asbestos fibres and dust, but this was quickly denied by the BBC.
Fibre optic cables were being fitted a few yards from the studio entrance, when engineers discovered what they believed to be asbestos. The area was cordoned off for safety reasons, and licensed contractors called in to deal with the situation.
It was not necessary to stop the filming, however, and a spokesperson from the studios said, “Fortunately, health and safety procedures were followed and there should be no risk to staff.”
When emergency procedures are ignored
Luckily the engineers carrying out the work were aware of the correct procedures, having discovered what they thought was asbestos within tiles. The situation was contained on this occasion, but it is not always the case that the correct action is taken.
If they hadn’t recognised that asbestos was present, and continued to work on laying the cables, the release of asbestos particles could have endangered everyone in the area.
Unfortunately this happens all too often because people either don’t recognise the substance, or simply aren’t aware of the health implications when asbestos fibres are released and inhaled.
Asbestos awareness training crucial for tradespeople and professionals
Asbestos awareness training courses cover what to do in an asbestos emergency – when fibres and dust are unintentionally disturbed. This type of training enables anyone likely to come across asbestos to protect themselves and others.
Although media reports appear to have exaggerated the danger to the Eastenders crew, the story does demonstrate that asbestos is all around us, and not only present inside our older buildings. The sheer number of products manufactured using asbestos means it is unlikely we will be completely free of this danger for some time.
Other ‘high profile’ buildings affected by asbestos include Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, and plans are already in place for huge renovation and refurbishment projects on both landmarks.
Vinyl flooring commonly contained asbestos
It is unclear what type of tile had been found at Elstree Studios, but vinyl floor tiles were a popular product during the 1960s and 1970s, and were commonly used in commercial buildings as well as by householders.
When asbestos was added to the vinyl, it provided greater strength and insulation against the cold. Vinyl sheet flooring was also widely used, and nowadays is often found beneath newer floor coverings.
Although asbestos-containing vinyl products do not break up easily, if they are broken or have disintegrated over time, there is a danger that fibres will be released. The situation at Elstree could have become serious had the engineers not taken the appropriate action.
A spokesperson from Essex Asbestos Testing commented:
“If they stopped work straight away, got out and did the necessary safety procedures the risk to themselves and passers-by would have been reduced to as low as it can be.”
By Matt Pearson – Flickr: The Queen Vic, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19190761