Media is ignorant of unsafe acts in the photos they use

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

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories construction, hazards, height, media, OHS, photographs, safety, Uncategorized, workplaceTags , ,

8 thoughts on “Media is ignorant of unsafe acts in the photos they use”

  1. As I waited for my order of meat to be filled at the local butcher I watched the guys in the back break down some beef sides. One butcher; quick and skilful with the knife; I was glad to see he wore his steel mesh glove on his other hand as it would be easy to slash it.

    The other older butcher; skillfully and carefully sliced through thick cattle rib bones with the band saw – like butter. That band saw could take a finger or even a whole hand or arm off in a second. The only thing between ten and fewer digits was skill and care. It also struck me that he\’s got to keep that focus up for an entire career. Another customer next to me, also watching, was poignant; \”He\’s only gotta be off-his-game once, aye.\” Yikes. I think he cringed too. I later reflected on a time in my youth when I bandaged my mothers finger tips together after she once pushed a piece of pine too far into a bench saw blade. I still can see the cuts from the carborundum tipped blade; from two finger tips to the root of two finger nails. So square and clean cut, with skin, flesh and bone so efficiently removed.

    I wondered if there was a better way to saw beef bones at the butcher or was that it?

    Kev, your pictures provide that same creepy feeling I got at the butcher. Just wind the mental clock forward, add a wrong step, then imagine the pain, suffering and damage.

    Although those pictures provide that creepy cringe factor, I\’m not sure these two unfortunate pictorial instances of risky choices could be considered the norm. Also, the media purveyor would have had a myriad of pictures to choose from and perhaps these were the most exciting and sensational looking and not a fair representation of reality? Sure some take silly risks but I have also watched many builders doing good work and controlling risk well: Railings, good hoisting systems, scaffold, gloves etc.

    Col, I like your idea of encouraging responsible media.

  2. If the images come from local (as in Australian) media, then I would hope that the regulator would act much as the police might when they see images or video of a crime being committed.

    Hey it would at least offer some useful evidence in court – a picture tells a thousand words – better than the usual clean up when they know an inspector is coming.

  3. I think this is an important issue. Like you I\’ve seen examples of nutty stuff in adverts and it has me scratchin\’ me head. (A recent one shows a quad bike with a massive roll of fencing wire on the back – big chuckle, I don\’t think.)

    It\’s obvious that people are influenced by TV adverts, evidenced by how quickly a dopey phrase in an ad starts appearing in real conversations. It seems to be, at very least, a lost opportunity to turn a blind eye to stupid work practices depicted in TV ads.

    For mine, section 23 of the Vic OHS Act (and its equivalent elsewhere) provides enough enabling power for the regulator to produce a compliance code for the advertising industry on responsible depiction of work practices. I\’d think it\’s entirely reasonable to conclude that using an obviously stupid work practice to promote a product is in the scope of \”exposing people to risk…arising from the conduct of the undertaking…\”.

    Of course the counter-argument will be that just showing something dumb on an advert is not \”exposing people to risk\”. I would respond to that with the simple fact that advertising clearly aims to influence behaviours, and loopy safety behaviour kills people.

  4. All the safety conferences past present and future have proven not to and unlikely to prevent the depicted behavior. I suspect these are self employed \”Tradies\” who do everything in their power to keep costs down and work faster.

    Like a speeding fine, if caught transgressing you pay the penalty and that has the effect of focusing your attention and reducing the likelihood of offending again for some time. Sorry, I forgot, prescriptive legislation doesn\’t work, given that it is hardly tried in any jurisdiction for any reason apart from death in the workplace as a reaction one could hardly be surprised.

    1. Tony, you may have been sarcastic in your last sentence but prescriptive legislation can work IF there are sufficient resources to police compliance. That is a big IF and one that governments decided a long time ago was not affordable. The community ultimately, and probably unfairly, carries the cost of the government\’s decision.

      Regardless of this, every business, employer AND employee has a legislatively duty to undertake work in a safe manner. The photos above show that unsafe choices continue to be made and this is why there needs to be a continuous diligence by everyone, the community perhaps most of all, to ensure all work is undertaken safely.

  5. How tragic is the media, if a worker was injured or an worker died they would be complaining about the lack of safety measures for the workforce.

    What is worse though is that the companies involved in these photos care so little about their employees.
    Where is all the safety equipment, where is the scaffolding instead of a ladder, where is all the training about working at heights???????

    Why is it that it always takes the death of a worker before workplace safety kicks in.

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