That “a picture tells a thousand words”  appears true in regards to safety as it is in most areas.  This is increasingly so in the new online media but what if the picture is wrong?  Does a wrong picture tell a thousand wrong words?

Recently this blog has written many words about quadbikes and the increasing requirement for mandatory helmets.  Many of the agricultural newspapers are now including photos of riders with helmets where previously battered hats were usual.  This trend of pictures reflecting reality or, at least, the current safety practices seems rare.

The image above was used by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to accompany an article on the in solar panels and rebates.  A different journalist would have jumped on the fact that the workers in the picture are working at height without any, apparent, fall protection.  This is clearly a breach of OHS regulations.

Another photo from a major Australian newspaper shows a work site where safety regulations are clearly being breached and the workers are at a high risk of injury.

One of the benefits of a highly successful OHS advertising campaign is that there becomes less community tolerance to dangerous work practices.  WorkSafe Victoria receives many phone calls each day about unsafe work practices and, at least those I have rung in, follow them up with a visit from an inspector.

The residential construction sector features in these photos mainly because the construction of housing is a very public occupation.  Bad work practices, like those pictured, are easier to see when outside and on sunny days.  That industry sector could feel targeted but the building of houses is a centuries-old activity and the hazards are extremely well-known.  Just as well-known are the appropriate control measures and yet this sector continues to take unacceptable (and unlawful) risks.

It could be argued that newspapers and other media should be aware of the unsafe work practices depicted in many of their articles but there are few if any OHS professionals on the editorial staff of media companies and the photographers are reflecting the reality of the workplace.  It is not the fault of the photographers, sub-editors or editors who are increasingly often relying on photo libraries to add “colour” to an article but the situation will not change unless OHS professionals contact the editors and point out the unacceptability of the work practices shown.  Over time, pictures of hazardous work will come to accompany only articles about dangerous work, incidents or fatalities and pictures of safe workplaces will be used to add “colour”.

If you see an image in your local media showing an unsafe work practice, email the link to SafetyAtWorkBlog, but only after you have brought the issue to the attention of the editor or webmaster first.

Kevin Jones