A campaign warning tradespeople about the dangers of asbestos has won a prestigious international award, according to a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) press release. The HSE’s “hidden killer” campaign was top in the health category of the European Excellence Awards, held in Vienna, which honor outstanding achievements in public relations.

Around 20 tradesmen a week die in the UK from asbestos-related diseases and the aim of the campaign, launched in autumn 2008, was to help prevent another generation of plumbers, plasterers, electricians and joiners having their lives cut short.

HSE worked with communications agency MS&L to devise the PR campaign which used a football analogy to raise awareness of the numbers of people still dying from asbestos exposure, with ex-England player and former plasterer, Ian Wright, brought on board to spearhead it..

The launch was covered by broadcast, print and online media, including the flagship BBC Radio 4 Today program and GMTV. By the end of the campaign, HSE had seen a 100 percent increase in calls to Infoline line and a six-fold increase in page requests on the campaign microsite.

Steve Coldrick, HSE's asbestos programme director said: “Asbestos remains Britain’s biggest workplace killer, but with the perception that it is largely a risk of the past we needed a hard-hitting PR campaign that would capture the imagination of tradesmen, particularly young ones. Using Ian Wright, a former tradesman, ticked all the boxes for us and delivered great results. We’re pleased that our approach has been recognised and commended by experts in the communications industry. The award is a testament to the good working relationship between HSE's communications and asbestos programme teams and MSL.”

The European Excellence Award is one of a number of accolades for HSE's “Hidden Killer” campaign. It was highly commended at the PR Week Awards in October and shortlisted for a PRCA Award in November. The print advertisements won an ANNA 'ad of the week' award (Awards for National Newspaper Advertising) and were nominated for 'ad of the year' under the same scheme.

The second phase of the campaign has just come to an end with early indications of success. More than 4,000 calls were made to Infoline during November and there were around 200 items of regional coverage.