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OSHA rules put crimp on news photos

Sometimes, something as simple as a photograph can cause people headaches.

It happened last summer when a feature shot of a bunch of construction workers watching a baseball game while they ate lunch led to a handful of men suspended from their jobs.

Apparently the way the men chose to eat their lunch, with their legs dangling over the edge of the floor they were building, was a violation of Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules.

Then last week, there was a big water main break near South Anthony Boulevard and East Wayne Street. There have been a lot of those this year.

One of our photographers happened by and took a picture of a man standing in a huge hole with a big water main exposed at the bottom.

As news photos go, it probably won’t win any awards, but it was newsworthy. It showed how big a hole it took to fix the problem and showed people why traffic might have been diverted and let some people know why they didn’t have water.

Apparently, though, the photo also showed something that never occurred to the photographer: an OSHA violation.

What the OSHA violation was isn’t clear. As far as I know, I’m not covered by a lot of OSHA regulations. I sit in a chair next to a desk that I am occasionally told to clean.

On the street, though, there are all kinds of regulations, and apparently some OSHA official spotted the picture of the repair work – and a violation of some sort.

Of course we had no idea any of this had happened until the same photographer stopped Thursday to snap a possible feature photo of a city worker cleaning up leaves that were stopping up a sewer grate.

The worker wasn’t pleased. He yelled at our photographer, the photographer said, and said he didn’t want his picture taken. He said they had a meeting that morning and the boss told them if any media show up at a work site they should get out of the hole or stop what they’re doing and not be photographed. Then he explained the OSHA issue.

I asked a spokesman for the city whether the city had actually adopted a policy of not allowing city workers to be photographed. He called me back and indicated the city doesn’t have a policy like that but that safety is the main focus and if workers feel they need to stop work they certainly can do so.

If there is such a policy, even if it’s informal and isolated within one department, it might really put a crimp on future publication of man-in-a-hole-with-a-broken-water-main photos, but we’ll survive.

It might also mean that if a photographer shows up at a work site, work will immediately stop and won’t resume until the photographer leaves. Keep in mind, though, that when a photographer shows up, it’s to shoot a picture of something that might be news, not to try to spot someone violating an OSHA regulation.

It occurs to me, though, that there’s a simple and effective solution to this problem.

Don’t violate OSHA regulations. If you’re supposed to wear a hard hat, wear one. If you’re supposed to wear a reflective safety vest, wear one.

And just keep on working.

And then if you don’t want your picture taken, you can always just say so.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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