Eight Legged Freaks, starring David Arquette and Scarlett Johansson, is a blend of action, comedy, thriller and science fiction. The film offers an exaggerated illustration of the catastrophic events which can occur as a result of overlooking minor health and safety procedures. For many of us, the first time we watched this movie was over ten years ago and, at that time, we were oblivious to the health and safety issues that were present. As current students of Occupational Safety and Health Management, we are now cognizant of health and safety policies, practices and procedures. While watching this movie, we identified various health and safety violations, came up with recommendations to avoid such violations, identified five different groups of hazards and provided suggestions on how to mitigate these hazards and reduce any associated risks. Now, without further ado, let’s dissect this movie.
Brief overview of the movie
The movie is set in a rural mining town in a fictional city called Prosperity, Arizona. At the start of the movie, a truck driver, who seemed tired from working a long shift, tries to avoid hitting a rabbit and swerves his truck sharply, causing a barrel of hazardous substance to fall from his truck and into a nearby lake. The barrels being transported were a product from the company Viroanol Corp, which claims to provide ‘modern chemicals for enhanced living’. The barrel is marked with a red label and the word ‘biohazard’. Joshua, the owner of a spider farm, uses the lake as an extension from his workplace to collect crickets for feeding to the spiders at his farm.
After eating the crickets and being exposed to the hazardous substance, the spiders mutated into enormous ‘eight legged freaks’, broke free of their cages, relocated to the mine tunnels and violently attacked the residents of the town. In the movie, we meet Chris McCormick, played by David Arquette, who is the owner of the gold mine. He is the person in command of the miners and he controls the operations of the mine. Therefore, he can be said to be both an employer and an occupier. Sheriff Samantha Parker and Sheriff’s Deputy Pete Willis both work in law enforcement and can be seen as employees of the Sheriff’s Department of Prosperity Arizona. In the film we also meet Sam’s son, Mike Parker, who was the first to discover the horrific effects of the contaminated lake. We are also introduced to Gladys, the aunt of Chris.
Breaches of Safety and Health Legislation Identified
The Trinidad and Tobago Occupational Health and Safety Act Chap 88:08 (“the OSH Act”) lays out the duties and responsibilities of various actors in an industrial setting, as well as safety and health requirements and sanctions for breach of the Act. While watching the movie (with the OSH Act in our hands), we noticed a few safety and health violations. Some were a direct result of the biologically hazardous spill, while others were indirectly related to the spill. We made a note below of these violations to share with you below.
Improper transportation of chemical barrels
Viroanol Corp, the company responsible for the biologically hazardous chemicals which kick-started this entire story failed to properly secure the drums for transportation. The drums were being carried on the bed of a truck without any restraint beside guard rails, and no secondary containers were used to safeguard against any leakage. The drums were also left unsecured. There was a tattered thin nylon rope seen hanging from the truck, which proved to be an insufficient method of securing the drums.
Violation(s): Under the OSH Act, the employer has a duty to ensure the safety and absence of risk to the health of employees in transporting substances (Section 6(2)(b)). In addition, the employer must ensure that his business is conducted in such a way as to not expose persons other than employees to risks to their safety or health (section 7(1)). If Viroanol was an employer in Trinidad and Tobago it would have been in breach of the Osh Act.
Recommendation(s): Viroanol Corp, being the employer could have provided secondary containers and employed proper restraints in order to hold the drums firmly in place during the journey thereby eliminating health and safety risks to its employees and the public.
Failure of employees to take reasonable care
In the opening scene, the truck driver was falling asleep at the steering wheel. He operated the truck while distracted, choosing instead to pay attention to adjusting the radio and sipping coffee (pictured above). His lack of alertness not only put his safety at risk, but also the safety of other drivers, potential pedestrians and the public.
Violation(s): Section 10 of the OSH Act speaks to general duties of employees at work. An employee must ensure that he is not under the influence of an intoxicant to the extent that he endangers his own safety, health and welfare at work or that of any other person (Section 10 (f)). While a cup of coffee may not fall into any of this category, the Osh Act obliges the employee to take reasonable care for the safety and health of himself and other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions (section 10 (a)). It can be seen that the truck driver did not take such requisite reasonable care and therefore would be liable for breach of the OSH Act.
Recommendation(s): Pulling over to a rest stop and taking a break from driving would have reduced the risk of the truck driver being inattentive while driving, an act which potentially endangered his life and endangered the life of others.
Inadequate personal protective equipment
Duty owed by employer to employees: In one scene, the employer of the gold mines, Chris McCormick, briefed his employees on safety precautions, noting that there are high volumes of methane gas within the inner chambers of the mining tunnels and therefore masks should be worn at all times. An OSH Inspector in Trinidad and Tobago then would be pleased to know that such a briefings were being carried out, as this is in-keeping with both best practice and the OSH Act (section 6(2)(c)). However, the briefing and the personal protective equipment provided by the employer to his employees were inadequate and unsuitable because the miners lacked proper safety eye-wear, ear muffs and breathing masks. Instead they wore regular eyeglasses and a makeshift mask made from torn cloth which was tied over their noses and mouths.
Violation(s): This is clearly in breach of section 23(1) which mandates the employers to provide protective equipment to all persons entering an industrial establishment and likely to be exposed to risks that can affect the body.
Recommendation(s): Given the nature of the job, it is unlikely that the risk can be completely eliminated, in keeping with the ‘hierarchy of controls’, substitution might have been a viable option – substituting one or more of the machinery/ tools used. Isolation and engineering might not have been helpful in this area because there would have been difficulties in isolating the gas and there would have been a cost attached to the construction of special equipment. However implementing administrative measures could have helped to reduce risk, for example by setting up a shift system where the mine workers take shifts in completing their tasks. As a last resort, the mine workers should be outfitted with suitable and sufficient personal protective equipment in order to reduce their risk to as low as reasonably practicable. Such equipment include a pair of safety goggles and a breathing mask.
Duty owed by employer to the public: In another scene where members of the public entered the gold mine with Chris, who is both the employer and occupier of the mine, there was no sign of protective equipment being worn by any person inside in the mine. Both the members of the public and the employer lacked protective eyewear, headgear, clothing and the appropriate breathing masks to prevent them from being affected by the methane gas.
Violation(s): It is the duty of the employer to ensure that persons other than employees are not exposed to safety and health risks (section 7 of the OSH Act). Further, section 9 indicates that an occupier has a general duty to protect the safety and health of the public in the vicinity of his establishment. By leading the public into the mines without any form of protective equipment, Chris acted contrary to the OSH Act.
Recommendation(s): In such of a scenario, the employer (who here is also the occupier) should have ensured that all persons were fully clothed in personal protective gear, not only to limit the risk to safety and health of those persons but to limit his liability for any loss or injury which could have occurred.
Failure to implement a safe system of work
In another scene of the movie, also set in the mines, we noticed one mine worker using a jackhammer which was pointed to the walls in front of him and ever so often he reached down to grab a fire hose to spray the wall from debris. At one point, the hose stopped spraying and he removed his makeshift mask and started sucking the nozzle of the hose, perhaps thinking something was clogging the hose and sucking on it would clear it. He eventually swallowed a spider which was hiding inside the hose and that was the last we saw of him. This leads us to question, was this worker trained in the cleaning and clearing of this equipment?
Violation(s): Section 6 of the OSH Act mandates an employer to provide a safe system of work and to ensure that information, instructions, training and supervision is provided as is necessary to ensure the safety and health at work of employees.
Recommendation(s): The employer should have provided the necessary information, instructions, training and supervision to the employee so that employee could have engaged in the proper technique in clearing the blocked hose. This is all a part of the employer’s duty to ensure the safety and health at work of employees, so far as reasonably practicable.
Other Safety and Health Violations
In addition to the health and safety violations that we saw in the movie and were directly provided for in the OSH Act, we identified other health and safety violations. As mentioned above, the legislation sets out a basic framework. However, being safety and health minded persons who want to offer the best safety advice and not just the bare minimum, we wanted to share some additional violations which are not specified by legislation but which were present in the movie and salient to a discussion on safety and health.
In the movie, there were at least two separate workers in the mines who were each left to work alone in the confined space. Another instance of lone worker evident in the movie, was the owner and operator of the spider farm who had no employees. The disadvantage of lone workers was illustrated in a subsequent scene when the spiders attacked him and his eventual demise went unnoticed and unreported for several days. This type of risk can obviously be mitigated by introducing a buddy system, setting workers out in pairs.
Lack of quarantine
Upon discovery of the toxic substances in the town’s lake, safety measures should have been implemented to ensure that public’s access to the contaminated water is restricted thereby decreasing the public’s risk of exposure to the biological hazard.
Improper procedure in the removal of the barrel from the lake
Sheriff’s Deputy Pete Willis was seen removing the drum from the lake while using inadequate and unsuitable personal protective equipment. The gloves that he used were not of an approved standard. In fact, they appeared to be a pair of yellow latex gloves, more commonly known as dish-washing gloves. These gloves would have not been designed or approved for use when dealing with biological hazards. After using these gloves, Deputy Willis proceeded to scratch his head with the contaminated gloves. Deputy Willis should have used biohazard autoclave gloves and should not have touched any part of his body with the contaminated gloves. This little act demonstrates the importance of training and education. If Deputy Willis was educated about safety and health signage, he would have perceived the danger from the outset simply by knowing the meaning of the red label on the drum. Further, it can be seen that such chemical removal processes ought not be carried out by Sheriff’s Deputies but by trained safety and health personnel.
Reece defines hazards as dangerous situations or conditions that can lead to accidents. The more hazards present, the greater the chances of accidents. Hazards can be categorized based on their energy source. For the purposes of this blog, we will identify five (5) main types of hazards spotted throughout the film, namely ergonomic hazards, biological hazards, psychological hazards, physical hazards, and chemical hazards.
In the scene where the miner alternated between the use of the jackhammer and the water hose, we observed that the use of such heavy equipment over an extended period of time and the implementation of such a system of work exposed the miner to an ergonomic hazard. After standing ‘at-eased’ and being jolted by the jackhammer, the mine worker would bend over to collect a fire hose at his feet. He would then spray the chiseled walls of the mine, release the fire hose and return to jackhammer. The constant jolting and bending could cause damage to the mine worker’s spine. One recommendation is for the employer to provide a waistband which would provide support to the mine worker’s waist. Another recommendation is to place the hose above ground level to eliminate the system of bending over to retrieve the fire hose.
Apart from the dumping of the biohazard material into the lake, one biological hazard identified was the fluid excreted by the spiders. In the movie, Chris, Mike and Sam touched the dismembered limbs of the spiders and were even covered with the thick green fluid excreted by the spiders. The characters should have used biohazard autoclave gloves, protective eye-wear and also protective body suits when dealing with the spider remains.
The residents of the town would have been exposed to a significantly high levels of stress, anxiety and fright based purely on the fear of being killed by these enormous spiders.
Noise, slips and trips, fire and electrical hazards are some of the few hazards under the category of physical hazards.
The members of the public in the gold mines were all exposed to physical hazards, from falling debris and dust within the mine to slips and trips on the uneven surface of the ground, but the employer and occupier who provided no protective gear did nothing to mitigate the severity of these hazards. Also, the scene where the mine worker alternated between the jackhammer and fire hose illustrates an exposure to several physical hazards as the worker must have endured temperature extremes, sharp vibrations, sharp jolts about the body and noise.
Potential trip hazards are another form of physical hazards. In the scene where Mike enters the spider farm in search of Joshua, the confined wooden spider farm has become disorderly and covered in spider webs. There is clearly a trip hazard as the webs play a role in obscuring vision while the various shelves and broken glass could easily cause Mike to trip and fall leading to serious injury. In an effort to mitigate this risk, the area can be cleaned and tidied up, removing all spider webs and other broken items from the walk path.
Chemical hazards and fire
Chemical hazards are inherently linked to physical hazards. Makin and Winder identifies that categorisation of hazards are of little or no use because the impact of one hazard may be different from the way it initiated. Collins and Schneid explain that some hazardous chemicals pose physical hazards to workers by triggering fires, others burn the skin or respiratory orifices while others release toxic by-products a result of fires. One chemical hazard which had the impact of a physical hazard was illustrated in the scene of the movie where Gladys entered a mine filled with methane gas holding a lit cigarette. Methane is a colourless, odourless flammable gas. The slightest spark or open flame causes the gas to ignite and this could result in an explosion. At the end of the movie, Gladys herself admits, that smoking is a dangerous habit, saying that it “causes explosions”. At least we know Gladys learned something new about health and safety.
Compliance with safety and health procedures is of vital importance to the employer, employee and public alike. Not only can failure to comply result in an occupier and even an employer being at risk for violations of the OSH Act, but these violations can also have catastrophic results on human lives and the environment.
What can you take away from our web investigation? The importance of learning how to , reduce your chance of legislative breaches, mitigate hazards and make your workplace safe so that you can avoid an encounter with the law or any eight legged freaks!
Collins, Larry, and Thomas, Schneid. Physical hazards of the workplace. Boca Raton, Fl: CRC Press
Clavies biohazard autoclave gloves. Digital Image. Sigma-Aldrich. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/product/aldrich/z408492?lang=en®ion=US
Eight Legged Freaks. DVD. Directed by Ellory Elkayem. Los Angeles: California, 2002
Health and Safety Products. Digital Image. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://www.health-safety-products.co.uk/store/products/caution-falling-debris-sign-non-photoluminescent-rigid-pvc/
Makin, Anne-Marie, and Chris Winder. “Managing hazards in the workplace using organisational safety management systems: a safe place, safe person, safe systems approach.” Journal Of Risk Research 12, no. 3-4 (April 1, 2009): 329-343. E-Journals, EBSCOhost (accessed September 30, 2016)
Occupational Health and Safety Act, Act of 2004, Amended by 3 of 2006.
Reece, Charles. Occupational health and safety management : a practical approach. Boca Raton: Lewis Publishers. 2003
Signage and Labels. Digital Image. Biosafety University of Virginia. Accessed October 03, 2016. http://ehs.virginia.edu/biosafety/bio.signage.html
The most common hazard signs in chemical plant. Digital Image. Chemical Plant Safety Blog. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://www.chemicalplantsafety.net/safety-sign/the-most-common-hazard-signs-in-chemical-plant/
Photos obtained from the scenes of the movie.