Photographers say work ‘doing our back in’
THREE OUT of four NUJ photographers have experienced health problems from carrying their equipment. Reported problems include tendonitis, cracked vertebrae, trapped nerves and chronic back pain. Adam Christie of the NUJ Health and Safety Committee says: "Our survey had one of the highest levels of response from photographer we have seen, suggesting the problem is both serious and widespread". The committee organised the survey with the NUJ's Freelance Industrial Council following a motion at last year's Delegate Meeting (conference).
Though camera technology has been transformed in the last 15 years, the design and weight of cameras has largely remained the same since the days of film: 71 per cent of respondents carry between 5kg and 15kg, with nine out of ten frequently carrying additional equipment bags.
A third of those aged 50 or over have had to take time off work to recover from injuries sustained carrying their equipment.
Only two-fifths of respondents use a main camera bag that employs the approved methods of spreading weight evenly over both shoulders: a third use a main bag with one shoulder strap.
Three-quarters of NUJ photographers are freelance, and as one put it: "freelances cannot afford to be off work for long periods... and therefore we struggle on regardless".
Staff photographers said their employers were often reluctant to provide equipment that would alleviate the problem. One reported having to carry cameras openly in a town at night, because their employer refused to provide a wheeled bag.
Photographers also report hearing damage at concert venues, repetitive strain injury and lung damage from years of working with darkroom chemicals. One added: "I also get piles from sitting about waiting for the phone to ring. Does this count?"
Photographers who had experienced health problems reported that carrying their equipment in camera rucksacks, wheeled bags or bicycle panniers had improved their health. Other recommended solutions included using an osteopath, carrying less equipment or improving general fitness, especially by swimming.
"It's definitely an occupational hazard but it's not life threatening", said one: "I'm still doing it and I still love it, but I had to radically change my lifestyle and the kind of photography I do."