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February 2, 2011

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HSE denies asbestos-campaign cancellation claims

The HSE has rejected suggestions that an award-winning asbestos awareness campaign has fallen victim to government cost-cutting.

Construction union UCATT has written to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith insisting that the Hidden Killer campaign be reinstated, after it learned that HSE plans for a fresh phase of the initiative had apparently been shelved.

First launched in November 2008, the Hidden Killer campaign targeted construction workers and tradespeople who are at the greatest risk of exposure to asbestos. The campaign comprised national and regional advertising in newspapers, radio and television, while targeted businesses received campaign packs and other support materials via direct mail.

The campaign was repeated in November 2009, and follow-up research to evaluate its success revealed that 85 per cent of interviewees were aware of the publicity and advertising. More than three-quarters (77 per cent) reported having taken some action as a result of the campaign, and 56 per cent said they planned to take some action.

According to UCATT, a new phase of the campaign was due to have been rolled out in October last year but was delayed on account of a government communications-spending freeze. A union spokesperson confirmed to SHP that it had since received minutes from an HSE meeting in November last year, which recorded that there was “no intention to run the Hidden Killer campaign again” in its present form.

UCATT believes the campaign has been called off as a direct result of a 35-per-cent government cut in the HSE’s budget. The union has called for the initiative to be resurrected, pointing out that, each week, on average, eight joiners, six electricians and four plumbers die from asbestos-related diseases, and last year more than 2000 people died of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.

In calling for the campaign’s reinstatement, the union has the backing of Labour MP Natascha Engel, who last week introduced an Early Day Motion to this effect. As of today (2 February), the petition has 12 signatures.

UCATT general secretary, Alan Ritchie, said: “The cancellation of the Hidden Killer campaign will cost the lives of construction workers. This is directly a result of the Government’s cuts.

“The lack of knowledge about asbestos among many workers is frightening. The Government has a duty to ensure that workers know the dangers and are fully protected. They must not play Russian roulette with workers’ lives.”

However, an HSE spokesperson refuted the suggestion that the campaign had been cancelled. She said: “It is usual for us to take stock at the end of each phase of our campaigns to see how successful they have been. Hidden Killer is currently in one of those periods. All the Hidden Killer information is freely available online and we continue to publicise every single asbestos prosecution we take to raise awareness of the issue.”

Although not strictly under the banner of the Hidden Killer campaign, the HSE did launch a free training package in November last year aimed at colleges to help raise awareness of asbestos among young apprentices.

To visit the Hidden Killer web pages, go to www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/hiddenkiller/index.htm

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