Views on News

Electronic newsletters provide safety and health managers a timely, convenient way to stay informed. Plus, an update on computer security in the home office.

Recently, a reader asked for my recommendation on safety and health electronic newsletters. The question sparked my curiosity. While I knew of two e-mail newsletters tied to safety and health magazines, what else was available?

Like a good Internaut, I fired up my browser, searched the Internet with my favorite search engines and visited safety and health Web sites. Despite my best efforts, I found only one additional weekly news service. Let's take a quick look at the three I found. If you have a favorite electronic newsletter that's not mentioned here, please contact me at my e-mail or fax numbers listed below and I'll mention them in my next column.

Newsletters

It makes sense for safety and health magazine publishers to provide an e-mail news service. Regular e-mails provide a stronger tie to the magazine, keeping readers informed of news and developments between issues. The e-mails also help generate traffic to the magazine's web site, which helps online advertising revenues.

I subscribe to newsletters from both Occupational Hazards and Occupational Health and Safety. Each has its own style and focus and are different enough that they compliment one another. However, at the risk of being accused of bias, or even worse, sucking up to my editor, I must say that the Occupational Hazards biweekly E-News is my favorite because its organization and content best meet my interests.

The crisp news organization of the Occupational Hazards' E-News provides concise coverage of the top news at OSHA, EPA, MSHA, professional associations, major incidents, and high profile safety and health topics. The E-News begins with a short "In this issue" table of contents, a great screening tool for busy professionals. Each news item contains a link to the complete article at the Occupational Hazards web site.

The weekly Occupational Health and Safety E-News seems to focus less on news and more on short informational items on health and safety topics. News items are generally linked to a web page abstract with the full document available with an additional mouse click. I'd prefer to see the E-News items linked directly to the full article. To subscribe, visit the Occupational Health and Safety website at www.ohsonline.com.

A third e-mail newsletter is the Environmental Resource Center's Safety Tip of the Week. This newsletter is basically a collection of press releases combined with safety tips. The newsletter seems heavily designed to help market Environmental Resource Center products and services. This newsletter is too long for my taste, failing to meet my need for a brief weekly news summary. Form your own opinion by visiting the ERC web site at www.ercweb.com.

Army IH E-mail List

Maybe it's age creeping up on me -- after all, I wear bifocals so the mind can't be far behind in decay -- or maybe it's my ability to take things for granted until reminded of their value. But while checking my e-mail a month after my Internet search for safety newsletters, I realized I'd forgotten my most valued safety and health e-mail news service, the IH News E-mail List, produced by the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine.

The Army IH News E-mail List is a low volume e-mail distribution list with two core publications -- the quarterly Army Industrial Hygiene Newsletter and the monthly Industrial Hygiene Information and Regulatory Actions Summary. The newsletter is well-written, containing at least one interesting technical article with the rest of the issue generally devoted to items mainly of interest to U.S. Army personnel.

The monthly Regulatory Summary, however, is a gold mine of information, jam-packed with important news and useful information. Issues typically range from 15 to 25 pages with sections on regulatory actions, OSHA activities, Congressional activities, technical journal article abstracts, Internet news and noteworthy industrial hygiene profession news.

The technical articles section is especially helpful for keeping up-to-date. The April 2001 issue, for example, contains information on OSHA recordkeeping requirements for occupational-related noise-induced hearing loss, recently published NIOSH facts on latex allergy and women's safety and health issues, revisions to OSHA's bloodborne pathogens standard, an overview on bioaerosol sampling, foot protection programs, and the Acute Exposure Guideline Levels (AEGLs) published by the National Advisory Committee for Acute Exposure Guideline Levels for Hazardous Substances

The IH News must be a well-kept secret. According to Tammy Budkey, IH News List Manager, there were only 600 subscribers as of May 25th. The bulk of the subscribers are within the Army, with 37 percent from the private sector and educational institutions. I highly recommend subscribing to the Army IH News by visiting their website, chppm-www.apgea.army.mil/ihmsm/armyih.

Other Publications

While not available by e-mail, it's worth a trip to OSHA's web site to read the Job Safety & Health Quarterly (www.osha-slc.gov/html/jshq-index.html). The quarterly contains excellent information for safety and health professionals and is available in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format.

Targeted to physicians and public health workers, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review (www.cdc.gov/mmwr/mmwr_wk.html) frequently has information useful to occupational health and safety professionals. E-mail subscriptions to MMWR and other CDC publications are available at www.cdc.gov/subscribe.html.

Firewalls Revisited

Firewall protection is a necessity for broadband Internet access (see the May 2000 "Computers" column). While many broadband users depend upon firewall software that is free (www.zonealarms.com) or low-cost (www.networkice.com), the advent of reasonably priced hardware solutions make sense for users sharing connections over a local area network.

I recently installed a Linksys cable modem router for my home network. The Linksys router combines industrial strength firewall protection with a 4-port 10/100 Base-T Ethernet hub. Setup is straightforward -- simply connect the cable or DSL modem and networked computers and servers into the router and configure the TCP/IP protocols. The manual has excellent step-by-step procedures covering both semiautomatic TCP/IP settings and full manual configuration, the route I chose.

Operating my LAN over the router has several advantages over my old configuration of an Ethernet hub modem sharing software. My old setup required running one computer with two network interface cards continuously to maintain the network. The network duties placed additional overhead on the dedicated computer and if the computer crashed, the entire network went down with it.

The router is the only item on my network that needs to run continuously. I also keep my print server running continuously for convenience. Network performance has improved noticeably with the router and individual computers on the network are free to crash without affecting others.

To test the quality of the router's firewall, I continued to run BlackIce Defender behind the firewall. In over 4 months the only time BlackIce detected suspicious activity was when I opened ports in the firewall to explore special situations, such as running an FTP server, or when one computer on the LAN was set up outside the firewall in a "demilitarized zone".

Priced at $130, the router is not cheap, but the overall price is reasonable when compared to the cost of modem sharing software, Ethernet hub, additional network interface card and firewall software. I highly recommended the Linksys router for any small office or home office that demands excellent network performance and excellent security.

Contributing Editor Michael Blotzer, MS, CIH, CSP, author of "Internet User's Guide for Safety and Health Professionals," is an occupational hygiene and safety professional, writer, and computer enthusiast who brakes for animals on the information superhighway. Mike can be reached by mail addressed to Occupational Hazards, by fax at 309-2735493, or by electronic mail at [email protected]

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