Playwright brings asbestos tragedy to the world of theatre

A new production from Scottish female-led theatre company Stellar Quines and the Citizens’ Theatre has been winning rave reviews from audiences and critics alike.

The play in question, Fibres, is the work of Glasgow-based playwright Frances Poet, and is presently touring Scottish venues, concluding at the city’s Whiteinch Centre on 2nd November.

Fibres began its run on the country’s theatre stages on 17th October, and documents the story of Clyde shipyard worker Jack and his wife, Beanie, who is nursing him through asbestosis. Their marriage is severely put to the test when they find out that the dusty overalls Jack brought home to be washed by Beanie, also poisoned her.

Poet said she was inspired to write a play about asbestos by an encounter after her daughter’s music class with a woman who told her, over coffee, that she had recently lost both of her parents to mesothelioma, just six months apart.

While the play shows the energy and humour that Jack and Beanie bring to this toughest of challenges, Poet has also said it contains “a lot of anger”, observing: “The first report linking asbestos exposure to lung disease was published as early as 1898; yet for a century after that, companies went on using it in the construction trades.

“In making the story into a play, though, I really felt the need to make it something more than an angry rant; I wanted to write a real human story, with love and laughter as well as tragedy – a story audiences would want to engage with.”

The cast, meanwhile, is something of a dream one, featuring Jonathan Watson (Only An Excuse, Two Doors Down) as Jack and Maureen Carr (Still Game) as Beanie, ably supported by Suzanne Magowan and Ali Craig.

The play is also backed by the asbestos charity Action on Asbestos.

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Councils still not providing adequate RPE to staff handling asbestos

Concerns expressed about lack of asbestos equipment for Aberdeen council staff 

Unions and councillors have raised fears that Aberdeen council workers are still not yet benefitting from equipment to shield them from the risk of asbestos exposure, despite this being required by almost three-decade-old legislation.

Where does the law stand? 

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 require that employers supply suitable equipment to anyone whose health could be endangered by the lethal substance.

However, a report to a recent city council staff governance committee revealed that some employees do not have access to respiratory protective equipment (RPE), despite the last 18 months having seen a number of high-profile asbestos incidents in the locality.

Last summer, for instance, workers encountered the potentially fatal fibres at Bridge of Don Academy, and it took five days for an emergency response to be ordered.

Subsequent incidents, in November at Beachview Court and during the demolition of Kincorth Academy in August, indicate the very real potential dangers to Aberdeen council workers lacking access to such vital equipment.

The report stated that the local authority hoped to meet its goal of providing all of its employees with RPE access by the end of this year.

“Not getting on top of the situation” 

SNP councillor David Cameron said: “We are now 14 months on from Bridge of Don and we have had other incidents at Beachview and Kincorth.

“We are obviously not getting on top of the situation as much as we would like.”

Meanwhile, Liam Knox of the Unite union agreed that there was a “risk” to council workers as a result of the continuing lack of equipment. He urged the committee to closely monitor the situation.

He added: “We have seen various incidents lately and it is something that needs to be kept a close eye on.”

However, the committee was also told that there was a need for detailed asbestos surveys prior to work being undertaken by either the council or external contractors.

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