The campaign by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was criticised by the Adverting Standards Authority (ASA) today (23 September).

The first radio ad stated: “Every year there are more people killed by asbestos, than in road accidents, including joiners, electricians, plumbers, heating engineers and plasterers.”

The second ad said: “Any second now, this joiner will come face to face with … asbestos, and one day, the effects will kill him.

“Every year more people die from exposure to asbestos than in road accidents and that includes six joiners every week.”

A third and fourth ad aimed at electricians and plumbers used the same text, but replaced the job of joiners.

A fifth ad, this time with a female voice, said: “My bloke thinks he knows it all, but yesterday I told him something that made him think about asbestos and how you can still find it in anything built before 2000.

“He’s a plasterer so he could come into contact with it, he actually said he’d look into it to check if it’s in any of the buildings he’s working in.”

One person complained saying claims road deaths were lower than asbestos fatalities were misleading, and the references to the number of tradesmen dying could not be substantiated as they’re ‘flawed calculations and exaggerated’.

In its defence the HSE said the radio ads were part of a large, wide-reaching campaign which they had run since the introduction of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations in 2002.

The campaign aimed to warn building owners, and those members of the workforce most likely to be exposed to asbestos, of the risks posed by the inhalation of asbestos fibres.

The HSE also explained asbestos-related deaths among trades people continued to rise, while deaths in traditional industries were reaching a plateau.

However, the ASA ruled the HSE calculated the number of mesothelioma deaths by counting the number of death certificates that quoted the disease as the cause of death in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

A spokesman for the ASA said: “We therefore considered it was reasonable for the HSE to highlight the death rates for asbestos-related diseases, including those which were based on estimates, to today’s tradesmen.

“However the ads should have made clear that they were based on estimates and the claims should have been made in less absolute tones.

“We concluded the ads could mislead by presenting as definitive figures which were, in part, based on estimates.”

Luke Walsh

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