The Health and Safety Executive has been criticised for running radio ads in which figures concerning work-related diseases caused by exposure to asbestos were stated as definitive when they were in fact based on estimates and overstating the number of deaths resulting from such exposure.
Five ads were broadcast as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the risk of exposure to asbestos, particularly in the building and general construction industries. The central messages included the assertions that every year more people are killed by asbestos than in road accidents and that a certain number of workers and tradesmen in particular categories would die each week, e.g. six joiners, six electricians, three plumbers.
The Asbestos Watchdog complained that the assertions were misleading and could not be substantiated because they were based on flawed calculations and exaggerations. Both complaints were upheld and the HSE was directed in a decision on 23 September that it must not broadcast the ads in their current form.
While the mesage which the HSE was concerned to get across was clearly laudable, the adjudication acts as a timely reminder that it is easy for organisations to overstate their cases, particularly when engaged in marketing and advertising activities. The TUC has described the ASA ruling as “unfortunate” but the point here is that, no matter how laudable the message, there is no excuse for not getting facts right. That applies to all, including those whose function it is ensure compliance with regulations!