Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Nothing Funnier Than A Trench Collapse

It is possible that some people think OSHA officials have no sense of humor. But I think former OSHA Regional Director Adam Finkel has a point here.* He forwarded me this article from the NY Times:
Bobcats May Drop Advertising Campaign

An advertising campaign for the Charlotte Bobcats scheduled to begin this week could become a casualty of Friday's brawl in Auburn Hills, Mich.

The television commercials by Boone/Oakley, an advertising agency in Charlotte, N.C., were produced weeks ago. Created in a slapstick vein, they were to introduce an ardent Bobcats fan, the Ambassador, who appears around Charlotte with cardboard cutouts representing star players on teams the Bobcats will play this season, including Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming and Shaquille O'Neal.

Under the care of the character, however, the cutouts are plagued by various exaggerated acts of mayhem that render them smashed, wrecked, soaked, buried or ruined. The O'Neal cutout falls into a barbecue grill at a cookout and is incinerated.

"In light of this past weekend's events, the climate has changed and we have an obligation to review what we've done," Ed Tapscott, president of the Bobcats, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

"We wanted to strike a note of humor, comedy, but we are going to take a look at our ad campaign to make sure it is not misinterpreted," he said.

A decision has already been made about one of the commercials, featuring Ben Wallace of the Detroit Pistons, who was suspended for six games for his role in the brawl. The commercial, in which the Wallace cutout is partly buried in sand in a construction-site accident, is being withdrawn because Wallace will not be playing when the Pistons play at Charlotte tonight.
Writes Finkel: "So the Charlotte NBA team was GOING to show an ad in which someone gets buried in sand in a construction accident, and only dropped it because of the ugly brawl at the Palace?"

He recalled a similar issue when he was RA in Denver and wrote a personal letter "to the marketing director for "Mike's Hard Lemonade," which was then in the middle of an ad campaign in which all of the ads made fun of workplace accidents."

April 25, 2001

Dear Mr. ****:

I hope your company will take the opportunity to re-evaluate the wisdom of trying to sell your product by making light of serious occupational injuries. Your current television commercial, featuring a construction worker who falls and impales himself on a steel rod and then retreats to a nearby bar for a glass of hard lemonade, is really in very poor taste. Putting aside the inexplicable subject matter (why do you apparently think that “Mike’s makes you forget you’re bleeding to death” is an attractive marketing concept?), the commercial is a graphic affront to workers, business owners, and government agencies who devote their careers to occupational safety. More importantly, I’m sure the families of the approximately 700 victims who die in similar construction accidents each year (not to mention the more than 90,000 workers who suffer serious but non-lethal injuries due to falls) are much more deeply offended than I am by your choice of “humor.”

I know it’s “just an advertisement,” and I do believe that political correctness can be taken to extremes, but making fun of preventable tragedy is simply not something people should “lighten up” about. At this point, your commercial is merely another example of how certain segments of our society just don’t understand how far we have to go to give America’s workers some fundamental protections and rights. I would be happy to discuss this issue with you at your convenience.


Adam M. Finkel,
Sc.D., CIH

I can hardly wait to see the comedy routines celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster later this week.

*(Disclaimer: You may remember that Finkel was transferred out of his Denver Regional Administor position when he blew the whistle on OSHA for refusing to screen OSHA inspectors for berrylium disease. Although still officially an OSHA employee, Finkel is currently teaching at Princeton University under the terms of a settlement agreement the Agency signed in exchange for which Finkel dropped his lawsuit.)