Not Safe For Work–NSFW

by Dave Collins on September 12, 2014

in Safe Sex,Safety Photos,Safety Pictures,Workplace Safety



Not Safe For Work – NSFW – NS4W

NSFWNot sure where I have been (or what websites I have been surfing) but today I learnt a new acronym – NSFW – Not Safe/Suitable For Work and I would really like to start a discussion about how this is determined and examples of the application of the definition gone mad or used for evil!

Before you reach for the mouse and close this page down, I can assure you that this article is safe for work – at least at most workplaces.

Work Accident Photos

One of our readers emailed me directly (too scared to post a comment) and asked: “I was wondering if there were any laws governing the display of photos showing graphic injury images at the workplace. Would I need to post a disclaimer or something. I ask because the disclaimer would not be the first thing noticed if I post a photo on a wall at work of someone who has a nail in their eye for not using safety glasses”.

I didn’t have much time to think about and sent off a quick reply: “That depends – a disclaimer wont save you if you have done something negligent. Why not ask the people who work there first if they would be offended by that”. If anyone has a better response then please post it in the comments below. I know Rob Long would probably say that these pictures should never be used in the workplace as they may prime the wrong kind of thinking and behaviour but our page Gory Work Accident Photos is our 5th most popular page with about 2000 views per day!!!!

ADDENDUM: Rob Long has responded with this excellent advice:

Dave, there are several concerns with graphic photos:

1. we become desensitized to them over time because they are used to sensationalize rather than educate
2. research shows that the effect of such photos is very short lived and creates a sense of cognitive dissonance about event causation and expertise
3. they promote a voyeurism of tragedy
4. they serve as lazy tools for safety trainers who like to think that such photos are ‘powerful’ training props, when in fact they take little consideration of the psychological affect of such tools
5. they can be easily doctored in Photoshop and most people are not discerning about fake pics and,
6. the priming involved in such photos seems to promote a kind of ‘this won’t happen to me’ syndrome ‘because I have common sense’ way of thinking.
7. it would be nice to think that risk and safety people could be a bit more sophisticated about their stuff than using this approach
8. the use of such pics give power to the trainer who assumes the role of shock merchant but not thinking merchant
9. the context of safety training should be relevant and contextual to the participant, if the pics are disconnected from their real world then they are are of very limited value

I never use such photos in training.

Explicit Pictures

I tried to find a definition or guidance on what is or isn’t NSFW, not an easy task, Google had no trouble spitting out heaps of sites that are definitely NSFW and it is a good thing I am my own boss! I did find a useful article: How to Delicately Approach “Not Safe For Work” Sites with Employees which provides some useful advice:

What makes the situation difficult is the aforementioned subjectivity of what, exactly, constitutes NSFW. A site that you think is perfectly innocuous might be highly offensive to someone else in the office. If this is the case, the first thing you should do is not talk to the person looking at the offending material but the person who finds it offensive.

The most plausible definition of NSFW was on Wikipedia who say:

Not suitable/safe for work (NSFW) is Internet slang or shorthand. Typically, the NSFW tag is used in e-mail, videos, and on interactive discussion areas (such as Internet forums, blogs, or community websites) to mark URLs or hyperlinks which contain material such as nudity, pornography or profanity, which the viewer may not want to be seen accessing in a public or formal setting such as at work. Determining a site to be NSFW is invariably subjective, and poses challenges for academics who study sexuality. The difficulty in identifying such content objectively has led to the creation of online tools to help individuals to identify NSFW content:

So, as I thought, it is subjective and will probably vary from workplace to workplace. There has definitely been a change in what is considered acceptable in the workplace and you definitely wont find any of the sexy calendars or pictures that adorned many workplaces more than a decade ago – there are a few left but! Just saying, our 6th most popular page is: Safety Can Be SexyThis page is probably NSFW

If you really have no idea what is appropriate or Worksafe there is a website www.isthatSFW.com  where you can safety enter a web address without getting the attention of the IT Dept Geeks (I remember having to research a groin area injury and associated sexual dysfunction claim and quickly had a “please explain” come down from IT and HR LOL). The site as you to scroll down as the page is slowly displayed in micro-scale and you can decide if there are any naughty bits or big words.

I think it may be more useful to checkout the details in your employers sexual harassment and internet usage policies for definitive answer as to what is acceptable.

Other stuff supposedly unsafe for workplaces

But what about stuff, that doesn’t involve naked bits, injured body parts or four letter words, and is still considered unsafe these days for work but perfectly acceptable at home? Things like:

  1. Radios, toasters, microwaves and other appliances that cant be brought to work or must be tested and tagged
  2. Some workplaces ban photos of family and friends on desks
  3. I know plenty of Health and Safety and Risk Professionals who partake privately in high risk pursuits such as skydiving, contact sport, motorbikes, mountain climbing etc and yet are so Risk Averse when it comes to the behaviour of individuals, creativity and procedures at work???? How would they react if there were similar constraints imposed in their chosen leisure activities???

Perhaps have a read of this before you go: https://safetyrisk.net/safety-justifies-anything-and-everything/

So, any examples of where NSFW has been misinterpreted or overly enforced?

  • Wayne McCoy

    Dave, et al,

    What about videos to highlight a point. As with pictures that is all it is doing. Not trying to shock people into doing the right thing, but it is educating them, to a point. I understand about the dessensitising the audience, but if it is done with imagination and used sparingly, the effect may be positive (albeit short lived…but so is other training material short lived). If the audience are there in the training room because they have to be, then they may not giving you their full attention. If they are there because they want to be (e.g. Cert iV OHS) then they will learn and listen and give their full attention. What about the Victorian WorkSafe ads. Demonstrating what could happen…are they too a waste of time. I think not.

  • Wynand

    Hi Dave,

    I would like to refer to the blog on “common sense”. “Yeah, he was an idiot” falls into the same category – what seems like the actions of an idiot to me may seem sensible to him. (Why else would one take the chance?)

    I agree with the desensitizing. A good message needs to remain effective over time, and in my experience once the shock wear off, nothing is left if gory pictures were used. It may also cause people who have experienced trauma a lot of pain with little, if any, impact.

  • what about desensitization – I hear plenty of responses like: yeah but he was an idiot – that wont happen to me. I have used that when people have questioned my desire for riding motorbikes!

  • Roger Guntrip

    It’s a bit of an oxymoron but if you say fall off a scaffolding you might die. The pictures of what you might look like after the event don’t seem to act as a deterrent to risk taking. OK, training is necessary but sadly often has a limited impact on behavior but it is part of the accident prevention process. So if the aim is really prevention then the most effective methods are inspection and intervention. Take the pictures with you. The message tends to have more impact when it’s used in the workplace rather than the classroom.

  • Hi, I’m not sure that gory photos have a valid value in the workplace, unless you have specific person or collection of persons who just won’t get it!

    I once had a gang of scaffolders who would not use their harnesses correctly despite many TBTs and warning notes – they got a view of de-gloved balls due to harnesses worn incorrectly – that sorted them.

    However to leave them on display…… mmmmm…. rather not! This does have the effect of folk becoming blasé about the injuries rather than committed to safety in general. I prefer to use them only as a short sharp lesson if necessary.

    • Yeah I have worked in some places where a serious injury is seen as part of the initiation. Photos don’t convey the pain and suffering associated with injury.

  • Les Henley

    I note that Joshtate claims these types o f pic are a ‘powerful tool’ and James claims they ‘have a good reaction’.
    It may be that you realise a significant reaction to the actual pics when they were displayed, but what short and long term impact do those pics have on the safety behaviours of those who reacted in such a way?

    Firstly, do these pics cause you to reflect personally on any of your own behaviours that could lead to such injuries? If you don’t why would your audience?

    Have either of you actually discussed the impact with any of the participants AFTER the session? Did the pics actually encourage those who reacted to think about their own behaviours with a view to modifying any that might lead to same or similar outcomes?

    Did you even consider the simialarities and differences between the pics (and how the injuries occurred) and the workplace and work procesess where you presented them?

    Have a look sepcifically at points 6 & 9 of Rob Long’s comments.
    Such ‘sensational’ images do little to modify behaviours over time.

  • Dave, there are several concerns with graphic photos:

    1. we become desensitized to them over time because they are used to sensationalize rather than educate
    2. research shows that the effect of such photos is very short lived and creates a sense of cognitive dissonance about event causation and expertise
    3. they promote a voyeurism of tragedy
    4. they serve as lazy tools for safety trainers who like to think that such photos are ‘powerful’ training props, when in fact they take little consideration of the psychological affect of such tools
    5. they can be easily doctored in Photoshop and most people are not discerning about fake pics and,
    6. the priming involved in such photos seems to promote a kind of ‘this won’t happen to me’ syndrome ‘because I have common sense’ way of thinking.
    7. it would be nice to think that risk and safety people could be a bit more sophisticated about their stuff than using this approach
    8. the use of such pics give power to the trainer who assumes the role of shock merchant but not thinking merchant
    9. the context of safety training should be relevant and contextual to the participant, if the pics are disconnected from their real world then they are are of very limited value

    I never use such photos in training.

    As for NS4W the whole safety fraternity seems to think that a Cert IV WHS and knowledge of the Act provides a ‘mandate’ to override the will of others.

    • Thanks Rob – excellent points – I never thought about the power and lazy side of trainers using these images – too true!! Thanks I’ll incorporate in the article

  • James Ritchie

    Just like to add, I use them in safety talks with our employees. I do ask them/pre-warn them about them and they have no obligation to look at them. It normally has a good reaction!

  • It shouldn’t be a problem unless the photos are in a legal suit. Its the cold hard truth that that’s the only way you are going to change some peoples thinking about working safe for their self but also for the people around them as well. I might add I use the technique in just about every osha class/safety presentation I do,& its a very powerful tool.

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