A newspaper published a photo of some public works employees fixing a broken water main. Then, OSHA got involved.
The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, IN, published a photo of a worker standing in a huge hole with a big water main exposed at the bottom.
It was newsworthy. Fort Wayne had been suffering a lot of water main breaks, and this one closed a road.
In its own coverage of the situation, the Journal Gazette said the photographer never realized that, besides showing work being done on the broken main, the photo also showed a violation of an OSHA reg. And sure enough, OSHA issued one.
This isn’t the first time OSHA has used a newspaper photo to issue a violation. In fact, some recent stories in other newspapers show it’s not all that rare.
The newspaper said what the OSHA violation was isn’t clear. But, we can guess: If this was a “huge hole,” it was probably over five feet deep and it wasn’t properly shored.
Don’t get caught
Then, the same photographer stopped to take a photo of a city worker cleaning up leaves that were blocking a sewer grate.
The worker yelled at the photographer and said he didn’t want his picture taken. The worker said they had a morning meeting and the boss told them if any media showed up at a work site they should get out of the hole or stop what they were doing and not be photographed because of the OSHA violation.
The newspaper asked the city if it had adopted a policy of not allowing city workers to be photographed. A spokesman said there was no such policy, but if workers feel they need to stop work they certainly can do so.
Sounds like this might have been the message at that morning meeting: “We got slapped with an OSHA violation. Don’t change what you’ve been doing. Just don’t get caught.”
Of course the message may not have been communicated so bluntly. But it seems at least one worker got the wrong idea from his boss.
The Journal Gazette’s article summed up the situation the best: “There’s a simple and effective solution to this problem. Don’t violate OSHA regulations.”
It sounds like Fort Wayne’s public works department might need a change in safety culture. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.