Yet more false and misleading claims on asbestos from the Sunday Telegraph
The Sunday Telegraph’s latest comment piece from Christopher Booker, downplaying the health risks of white asbestos, is in a similar vein to the 41 other articles that Booker has had published on the subject since 2002.
Booker again repeats his false (and dangerous) claim that white asbestos poses “virtually zero” risk to human health, and his long-debunked assertion that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) once agreed with him on this point.
He claims that concerns about the health risks of white asbestos are based on a “confusion”, which has been “deliberately promoted” by personal injury lawyers and asbestos removal contractors, and that the Health and Safety Executive has latterly been “shamefully conniving with both these rackets”.
The ‘hook’ for the latest article is a ruling from the Advertising Standards Agency, about a series of HSE radio ads highlighting the risks faced by construction and maintenance workers in older buildings where asbestos is still be present. The ads were part of a wider HSE campaign to encourage trades-people to protect themselves adequately when handling asbestos.
Following a complaint from the indefatigable John Bridle, the Advertising Standards Agency had ruled that the advertisements were misleading.
The HSE had suggested that six joiners, six electricians, three plumbers and 20 tradesmen died every week from asbestos-related diseases. After looking at the calculations used to produce these figures, the ASA concluded that the numbers used should instead have been “six joiners, five electricians, three plumbers and 18 other tradesmen” (ie. a total of 32 workman dying each week from asbestos-related illness rather than 35).
The ASA agreed that “it was reasonable for HSE to highlight the death rates for asbestos-related diseases, including those which were based on estimates, to today’s tradesmen. We considered however that the ads should have made clear that they were based on estimates and the claims should have been made in less absolute tones.”
Booker says that Bridle had complained to the ASA that the HSE’s publicity campaign was “wilfully misleading”, and that their estimates about the number of asbestos deaths was “wildly exaggerated”, and that the ASA had upheld all of Bridle’s complaints.
But so far as I can see, the ASA ruling did not conclude the HSE had deliberately set out to mislead people, or that the figures they used were “wildly exaggerated”. And there is certainly nothing in the ruling to support Booker’s conspiracy theory that the Health and Safety Executive had been “putting out advertisements designed to panic the public into falling for the wiles either of the lawyers or of rapacious removal contractors.”