Environmental Health & Safety

How Do You Picture Safety?

An unusual photo contest seeks your creative take on the topic

By Mark Rosenzweig, Editor in Chief

"Cameras Prohibited" or "No Picture Taking" proclaim signs at guardhouses and reception areas at many chemical facilities. This policy may stem from a legitimate concern about photographs revealing details about proprietary technology, such as the type of reactor or separator used in a process, or commercial information, such as the supplier of a key raw material or the amount of product inventory on hand. Often, undoubtedly, it simply reflects the innate conservatism of the legal department at company headquarters. Some critics of our industry certainly will contend that the ban often relates more to corporate anxiety about outsiders snapping shots of less-than-stellar safety and environmental practices.

OSHA is looking for shots that celebrate safety.

In May, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched a program to get photos. But it's not for the reason you might think. OSHA isn't trying to obtain evidence of wrongdoing or workplace lapses -- instead, the agency is looking for shots that celebrate safety.

OSHA unveiled its "Picture It! Safe Workplaces for Everyone" contest as part of its yearlong 40th anniversary celebration. "OSHA challenges anyone with a passion for photography to capture an image of workplace safety and health and share it with the agency. The goal of the contest is to collaborate with the public -- relying on the talent, imagination and creativity of participants -- to kick off a national effort to raise awareness about workplace safety and health," noted the press release announcing the photo competition, which is the first in OSHA's history.

"Photographers may interpret 'image of workplace safety and health' in any way they choose. They are not restricted to particular subject matters or themes," adds the agency. Moreover, digital manipulation of images is allowed.

However, entries must comply with two key restrictions:

1. Photos can't appear to endorse a commercial product or service. They shouldn't show brand names, recognizable places of business, or other subjects identifiable with a specific manufacturer; and

2. Images must not depict a violation of an OSHA standard, uncontrolled hazard or unsafe procedure or practice. "Be aware of any unmarked hazard, improperly installed piece of equipment or other violation that might be visible in your frame," cautions the agency.

In addition, the shots must have been taken in the United States or its territories, and you must have a release form for each person who is recognizable in a photo.

Anyone 18 years old and up (except OSHA and on-site consultation employees) can enter up to three photos by midnight Eastern time on Friday, August 12th. The images must be submitted online via www.osha.gov/osha40/photo-contest.html. There, you also can find more details on the contest, acceptable photo file types and size, and a sample release form.

The panel of judges consists of Earl Dotter, a photojournalist; Kathleen Klech, photo director of Condé Nast Traveler magazine; George Tolbert, official U.S. Senate photographer (retired); Shawn Moore, chief photographer of the U.S. Department of Labor; and Carl Fillichio, senior advisor for communications and public affairs at the Department of Labor. They will evaluate the entries for "artistic value, and ability to raise awareness about safety and health to the general public." Judging criteria are the photo quality, originality, creativity, the clarity of the safety and health message conveyed, inclusion of worker, employer or workplace imagery, and suitability for possible use in OSHA publications.

Framed copies of the first-, second- and third-place photos will be displayed at OSHA's headquarters in Washington, D.C. -- "where they will serve as a daily reminder for leading policymakers and prominent professionals on the real-life impact of OSHA's mission," says the agency. The winner also will get a framed letter of congratulations from U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, while the two runners-up will get framed certificates signed by OSHA Director David Michaels. The winning and finalist photos also will appear prominently on the contest web page in September.

Chemical plants and other industrial sites have a reason to soften their stance on photographs at least for a while.

MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can e-mail him at mrosenzweig@putman.net