OSHA Tightens Policy For Releasing Regulations On Web Site

OSHA has issued an agency-wide directive to tighten its procedures\r\nfor posting information on its Web site.

OSHA has issued an agency-wide directive to tighten its procedures for posting information on its Web site, in part to avoid last year''s "telecommuting" controversy where workplace rules were posted without public notice.

The administrative directive was the fourth in a series of last-minute policy documents issued by OSHA, appearing on the agency''s Web site on Jan. 2.

The directive, OSHA Instruction ADM 1-0.20 -- Internet Policies and Procedures, cancels previous guidance and provides "a compendium of Internet policies for the agency."

The OSHA policy "defines responsibilities related to Internet usage and administration" and "prescribes clearance procedures for OSHA Web site postings," according to the document''s executive summary.

The 31-page document also establishes and assigns responsibilities to the OSHA Internet Technical Advisory Group; tasks regional administrators and directors with assigning Web officers to various agency offices; and defines the role of the OSHA Webmaster regarding clearance and posting of OSHA materials on its Web site.

Any entity wishing to be linked to OSHA''s Web site must provide "apolitical" information that "supports the agency''s mission," according to the document, and must pass 11 criteria questions, including: Is the link information significant, useful and unbiased?; Does the link provide information that is not available on other non-profit or government Web sites?; and Does the link contain information contrary to OSHA policy or standards? If so, what justifies inclusion of this link?

The agency also said it will not post incomplete pages on its Web site.

"Pages shall not contain references to information that is ''under construction'' or ''coming soon.'' Responsible offices shall remove such notations from existing pages," OSHA directed.

The agency''s new Internet policy comes in the wake of criticism from Congress and business groups for the agency''s quiet Nov. 15, 1999, Web site posting of an advisory letter to a Texas company.

That letter seemed to suggest that an estimated 20 million American workers who work at home and "telecommute" would be covered by OSHA rules.

OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress testified before the Senate Employment Subcommittee last January, that "the letter suggested OSHA policy where no such policy exists, and I regret the unintended consequences it caused. Our internal clearance mechanisms for reviewing such letters failed to raise this issue to the appropriate level."

The new Internet policy is applicable to all OSHA Internet, intranet and extranet activity, OSHA said.

The directive noted that OSHA has had a presence on the Internet since 1995.

The agency''s Web site servers currently register more than 800,000 user sessions and 18 million "hits" a month, the document said.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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