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Risky business

Public awareness case study: raising awareness of asbestos risks among tradesmen

Asbestos-related disease accounts for around 4,000 deaths a year but Health & Safety Executive (HSE) research revealed that many tradesmen didn't think they were in danger, as the substance was banned in 2000. Yet the risk of exposure to asbestos on construction sites is still very high. Half a million buildings in the UK are thought to have asbestos in them – all residential and commercial property built before 2000 is likely to contain the potential killer. 

• To raise awareness of asbestos risks among tradesmen
• To drive people to visit the HSE's Hidden Killer website
• To drive people to ask for health information packs.

Some young men constantly take risks with their health by smoking, engaging in unprotected sex, excessive drinking and not being safe in the work place. They are a group notoriously hard to influence with health messages. With asbestos having been banned in 2000, HSE research showed that this demographic believed asbestos related illness was an 'old man's disease'.  MS&L also identified the wives and girlfriends of those workmen as secondary targets, because of their role as key influencers and family gatekeepers and therefore their partner's health.

MS&L took the key campaign statistics and shaped them to speak directly to those at risk and devised an analogy, which could be pulled through all communications, to highlight the effect of asbestos-related diseases: If 20 Premiership footballers died every week, then the Premier League would be wiped out in just three months.


A photocall with Ian Wright launched the campaign to the national press
A photocall with Ian Wright launched the campaign to the national press


Ex-England and Arsenal footballer Ian Wright was recruited as campaign ambassador. A combination of his media profile and his previous experience in the building trade meant that Ian had credibility with our target audiences. The British Lung Foundation (BLF) is the only UK charity working for everyone affected by lung disease. The BLF gave us access to medical key opinion leaders and mesothelioma sufferers and their families, 'people like me'. 

To launch the campaign, an exclusive feature was secured with Ian Wright in The Sun's health pages, the newspaper of choice for our target audience. Interviews ran on BBC Breakfast, BBC1 Lunchtime news, BBC radio stations and GMTV, where mesothelioma sufferers and medical experts warned of asbestos' hidden dangers and gave out Hidden Killer phone line and website details.

A photocall with Ian Wright and the HSE Chair, Judith Hackitt, launched the campaign to the national press. The picture featured Ian and 20 faceless cardboard cut-out footballers, illustrating the weekly asbestos death toll. Ian also pre-recorded a vodcast, which was made available for the media and consumers to download from the Hidden Killer website.

A press conference in the nearby HSE headquarters followed. Hosted by TV doctor Dr Hilary Jones, it featured moving testimony from Tom King, who was suffering from lung disease as a result of being exposed to asbestos.

Media outreach was extended to all national news and health journalists who could not attend the launch, using toolbox-style press packs.

In order to influence mums and wives, MS&L targeted weekly and monthly consumer magazines with case studies for more in-depth real-life features.

Results and evaluation
The dedicated Hidden Killer Asbestos Infoline received 12,744 enquiries from the October 13 to November 21, 2008 verses 1,274 enquiries for the same period in 2007.
• 1,000 per cent increase in enquiries.
• The Hidden Killer website had 68,982 visits and 460,860 page requests for the period 13 October to 10 November 2008 verses 27,218 with 68,974 respectively in the whole of 2007
• 253 per cent increase in website visits
• 668 per cent increase in page requests.

Broadcast coverage included: multiple hits on BBC Breakfast, BBC News and GMTV with case studies and Radio 1, 2, 4 & 5, TalkSport and BBC London Radio 94.9. National press coverage was secured with an exclusive in The Sun and The Sun Online with significant coverage in The Mirror and The Independent. Coverage ran on over 100 websites.

The COI worked in conjunction with MS&L to adapt the campaign template for regional activity, utilising the football analogy and photocall concept with cardboard cut-out players. The subsequent coverage exceeded 200 hits in regional newspapers.

The HSE regards the campaign as: "one of the most successful campaigns carried out, with high recognition."


Case study details

Client: HSE (Health & Safety Executive)
Agency: MS&L
Campaign: Asbestos: The Hidden Killer
Timescale: September 2008 to November 2008

14th January 2010


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