Surfing for Safety

From standards and training to products and blogs, the Internet resources available to the safety community are growing, changing and becoming more sophisticated.

The Internet has done a lot more than provide alternative ways to shop, date, communicate or read the news: it also has a big impact on the safety industry and the tools available to EHS professionals.

These days, you can train your employees, determine the best PPE for the job, take care of recordkeeping and MSDS management and learn about safety regulations without leaving your desk. All you need is a computer, an Internet connection and the determination to stay focused in the face of all those online distractions.

Occupational Hazards takes a look at just some of the online offerings within the safety community to help you surf for the best information.

Into the Depths

Andrea Okun, the deputy director of the education and information division for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), says the NIOSH site (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh) contains a broad range of safety resources arranged into topic pages and program-based sectors. At first glance, visitors may not comprehend just how much information is on the site.

“If you look at our Web site, I’m not sure you know how deep it is, how much information is really there,” Okun says.

The NIOSH site logs more than 22,000 hits a day, with the ergonomics and stress-at-work pages racking up the most hits. The NIOSH Pocket Guide, the Spanish site and firefighter and state fatality reports also are among the most commonly accessed pages. Okun adds that the NIOSHTIC-2 bibliographic database, which provides access to all NIOSH documents, publications, articles, grant reports and other products, is one of the site’s key tools (http://www2a.cdc.gov/nioshtic-2/default.asp).

NIOSH manages to avoid information overload on the site through communication and organization. Okun points out that NIOSH staff are committed to making sure the site is organized in the best way to be accessible for site visitors. She says NIOSH conducts regular user assessments and makes adjustments as necessary.

“We really do want to know what works and doesn’t work. That’s very important to us,” Okun explains. “We think of ourselves as a service to provide this information and provide it in the most useful way possible.”
Like NIOSH, OSHA’s site (http://www.osha.gov) offers a wealth of health and safety information. The site contains over 400,000 pages of agency, program and technical information, as well as records on 3.6 million inspections. The site logs more than 8 million visitor sessions per month and exceeded 1 billion hits during FY 2007.

According to OSHA, the site’s most popular resources include regulations, inspection searches, publications and safety and health topics. Training resources and classes, Federal Register notices, eTools and recordkeeping forms also are heavy hitters.

“The A-Z index is the best place to start,” advised an OSHA representative. A keyword search and an advanced search option also help make the site’s resources easily accessible. Safety and health topic pages, meanwhile, consolidate the site’s information by arranging data by type of hazard or injury.

Associations

Safety associations also must have a strong online presence to provide their members and visitors with the best information possible. According to an American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) representative, the AIHA site (http://www.aiha.org) is tailored for various audiences, including members, nonmembers, EHS professionals and general consumers.

The AIHA site contains a members-only section, job search, marketplace, scientific journal, member magazine, consultants search, membership directory and salary calculator. The OEHS Library Central, which is AIHA’s comprehensive, digital library of knowledge, information and research for occupational and environmental health and safety professionals, also is a popular part of the site.

E-commerce Marketing Manager Jon Schwerman of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) says this association site, http://www.asse.org, stands out from the pack by offering visitors the best and most relevant industry news.

“From a safety perspective, we try to cover the most important, current news,” Schwerman says. “We’re trying to get the most important, the most salient information out immediately.”

Schwerman points out that the site contains two main sections: professional development and ASSE membership area information. The newsroom and members-only sections also are popular parts of the site, which sees approximately 125,000 unique visitors every month.

In addition, ASSE currently is developing the Body of Knowledge, which Schwerman describes as a wiki-based tool for the safety and health community to discuss what defines various disciplines within the industry. While Schwerman says other associations’ Web-based tools are more comparable to libraries, the Body of Knowledge will be interactive. The tool will be launched in phases, with the first phase introduced roughly within a year.

Schwerman added that it’s key for site visitors to have a voice. “We’re letting the customer decide what should be on the site,” he says. “I think that bodes well for the future of our navigation, our content and ultimately, getting more members to join and realize we are a huge resource for them.”

Virtual Training

Gone are the days when safety professionals had to rely only on in-classroom training to ensure their workers complied with health and safety regulations. Today, online training can supplement or replace some types of classroom training, providing a convenient alternative without losing valuable on-the-job time.

“The big difference is that you learn at your own pace and your own speed,” says Justus Heuer, the direct channel manager for OSHACampus.com. He adds that the content of online training is consistent, and that companies can create a course that offers the same message across various jobsites.

While Heuer acknowledges that classroom training has its own value, particularly for some older workers, he says the future of safety training likely lies in online form.

“I really see e-learning becoming more and more the way training’s going to be developed,” he says. “I think you’re going to find a lot of advancements in online training and the quality of the product.”

Troy Hackwart, developer for Adaptive Training Systems (ATS), doesn’t believe that safety should be competitive. That’s why ATS (http://www.adaptive trainingsystems.com) is focused on creating an online safety community based on sharing, not competition.

Hackwart explains that most companies are challenged not by securing course information, but rather by finding an accessible, affordable way to distribute that information to their employees. That’s where ATS comes in, to set up the technology and help companies understand how to use the delivery methods. Some companies even share their course materials with ATS for other clients’ use.

“We’re trying to create a community where we share so people don’t have to reinvent the wheel over and over again,” says Hackwart.

Jonathan Jacobi, a subject matter expert for online safety training provider PureSafety (http://www.puresafety.com), points out that online training allows safety professionals to direct their attention to other, more pressing matters, like prevention.

“The more efficient they can be with safety, the more time that saves the organization,” Jacobi explains.
Online training, however, doesn’t need to be a cold or anonymous process. Jacobi points out that PureSafety uses the experience and knowledge of their own safety professionals to design and deliver course content. PureSafety employs full-time, on-staff safety professionals with industry experience to make sure the most relevant points are emphasized.

“So we’re going to cover all the compliance requirements, but we’re going to make it real-world with people who have real-world experience,” Jacobi says.

Product Info Online

Finding the right safety products or equipment is easier than ever with interactive Web sites. Best Glove’s Web site (http://www.best glove.com), for example, helps customers select the right hand protection with only the click of a mouse.

According to Marketing Manager Gil LeVerne, the site’s “Is the Best Glove for Me?” section is a useful tool for people who are new to an industry or who could use a quick study of hand protection. Visitors can search through the company’s offerings by selecting a particular application, hazard or chemical. The resulting matches include a chart detailing the level of cut, chemical, abrasion or puncture resistance, as well as a price-level indicator.

Best Glove’s chemical resistance guide, or ChemRest, is a dedicated Web portal containing all the information required to select an appropriate chemical-resistant glove for multiple hazardous applications. ChemRest includes data from more than 9,000 tests, including rankings of the most to least effective protection for a particular chemical. Users can search by the type of chemical, CAS number or glove style.

In the future, the company plans to include brief application videos so visitors can see how a glove performs, as well as a password-protected crossover chart. “Our industry is very much following the web development,” LeVerne says. “Everyone’s trying to become more Web-savvy.”

And in addition to featuring an interactive glove selection guide at http://www.progradegloves.com, Ansell offers the Ansell U Challenge, an online safety game, at http://www .vantagegloves.com. Players choose from a variety of gloves with different ratings for dexterity, grip and abrasion and puncture resistance and then attempt to stamp out as many pieces of metal as they can without incurring injuries.

But glove manufacturers don’t have the corner on online PPE resources. Howard Leight by Sperian offers an online hearing protection selector (http://www.howardleight.com/selector) to allow users to select the desired exposure level, type of product, style and features. Visitors enter for their required product specifications and are provided with a comparison chart of the products that meet their needs.

Web-based solutions also can help companies manage gas monitor systems, like Industrial Scientific’s iNet (http://indsci.com/products/inet.aspx), which remotely monitors a company’s instrument fleet via the Internet and automatically handles necessary service requirements.

The system provides weekly instrument status reports covering calibrations, sensors, bump test warning/status, secure off-site data storage, installation, continuous gas cylinder pressure monitoring and more. By using a Web-based system like iNet, a company can eliminate gas managing tasks that are cost-intensive and time consuming.

The Safety Blogosphere

David Michaels is a professor and associate chairman in the department of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services and author of the book Doubt Is Their Product. He also is a contributor to The Pump Handle, a blog touted as “the water cooler for the public health crowd.”

The Pump Handle (http://thepump handle.wordpress.com) readership includes professionals, activists, students, reporters and policy makers, among others. More than a dozen contributors weigh in on occupational safety and health topics, which can range from how OSHA has addressed the recent surge in crane-related deaths to chemical laws or diacetyl.

“It’s an opportunity for the safety and health community to discuss a lot of these issues,” Michaels says. “It creates a conversation.”

The Pump Handle receives approximately 500 hits per day and serves as a sounding board for those concerned with occupational safety. It also contains links to articles and documents and provides a forum for readers to comment on the information.

Other blogs of note include the Weekly Toll, http://weeklytoll.blogspot .com, which recounts workplace fatalities that occur throughout the country and comments on legislation and other pertinent topics. OSHA Underground, http://oshaunder ground.blogspot.com, posts news items and legislation involving OSHA and considers how the agency might be more effective. Finally, archived entries of Confined Space, a blog that focused on worker safety issues from 2005-2007, still are available at http://spewingforth.blogspot.com.

Paper Dump

Besides managing gas monitoring systems or providing an easier way to scope out PPE options, Web-based programs can help keep track of records or material safety data sheets (MSDSs). Duane Burkett, chief operating officer at Safetec (http://www.safetec.net), says online MSDS management allows employees to access MSDSs faster, stay up-to-date on required documents and avoid piles of paper.

“Trying to use paper and going through binders is a cumbersome process,” Burkett says. “With an electronic system, you instantly check the entire database.”

The online system is backed up by Safectec’s 24-hour hotline, which allows workers or managers to access MSDSs even if the Internet is on the fritz. Companies also can use Safetec’s collection of MSDSs if they are missing an appropriate document.

Replacing all that paper with online methods might be good for a safety professional’s piece of mind – and for the environment. But even more, these online resources help people connect and communicate about safety topics, access otherwise hard-to-find documents and stay up to date on regulations and safety issues.

According to ASSE’s Schwerman, the goal is to strive for a user-centered Web experience and to fully explore all that online resources can offer the industry. That means always learning, trying new things and experimenting with Web-based solutions. After all, if you remain static in the ever-changing online world, you just might get left behind.

Sidebar: OH Online

When you’re searching for news, trends and products relating to occupational safety and health, there’s no need to go farther than OccupationalHazards.com. Here’s a snapshot of what the site offers.

News Items – News items are posted to the site daily to keep you up to date on the latest events, studies, legislation, trends, industry tips and more.

Safety Zones – Take a look at the left side of the site to find Safety Zones that organize information into roughly 4 dozen categories such as construction safety, hand protection, OSHA compliance and safety management. Each section offers category-specific news, articles, featured suppliers and products, making it a snap to find what you need.

Digital Issues – Are you in a rush to reference something in Occupational Hazards but can’t locate your copy of the magazine? You can still read the current issue, as well as archived back issues, online. Just click on the “Digital Issue” icon at the top of the page and select an issue.

Safety WebExpo – In May, Occupational Hazards hosted the Safety WebExpo and Conference, offering all the resources you’d find at a trade show without the stress or expense of travel. You can still take a peek at the archived webcasts, visit virtual booths, download literature and more at http://www.occupationalhazards.com/webexpo.

Webcasts – The site regularly hosts new webcasts for the site, with recent editions focusing on arc flash, fire-resistant clothing, green chemicals and chemicals policy, workplace gas hazards and public safety at major venues.

Podcasts – Listen in as Occupational Hazards editors interview industry leaders and experts about topics like ergonomics and the aging work force, OSHA 10-hour training, sleep deprivation’s effects on safety and more. Listen at your desk or download the podcast and take this portable safety content with you wherever you go.
Products and Suppliers – The site’s Safety Storefront provides information on suppliers, as well as product spotlights and a supplier directory to simplify your search for the best safety equipment and products.

e-Newsletters – Occupational Hazards produces weekly and monthly e-newsletters offering the latest news, best practices and analyses in occupational safety and health, construction safety, ergonomics, industrial hygiene and safety solutions. View archived newsletters at http://www.occupationalhazards.com/NewsletterArchive.

SafetyLive TV – Tune in to this section to watch product demonstrations, company video programs and reports from industry trade shows.

The Future

The Web is an ever-changing and growing world, and OccupationalHazards.com is no different. We have some big plans in store for the site in the future, including design changes and a new content focus to provide readers with the latest and most relevant health and safety information. Be sure to check back often and stay up to date with OH.

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