"The most dramatic way [the Internet] has changed the safety, health and environmental professionals do their jobs is it provides fast access to key information, particularly when it comes from regulatory agencies," says Michael J. Blotzer, MS, CIH, CSP. "Many regulatory agencies have good information and software tools to help employers comply with their regulations."
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), to name three federal agencies, offer a variety of useful information on their Web sites.
The motherlode of occupational safety and health information is probably the Web site operated by OSHA. The site receives 10 to 15 million hits per week, or an average of 1.5 million hits per day.
"First of all, our intent is to have one-stop shopping for current, consistent, accurate information for worker safety and health," says MaryAnn Garrahan, team leader for Health Compliance, Office of Technical Programs and Cooperative Activities.
The home page on OSHA's recently redesigned Web site features current, high priority information on topics such as ergonomics and the most recent OSHA citations. It also includes links for compliance assistance, cooperative programs, the OSHA newsroom, safety and health topics, statistics and international safety.
Click on ergonomics on the compliance assistance page (which in addition to specific topics offers the text of the Occupational Safety and Health Act; eTools, which are "stand-alone," interactive, Web-based training tools on occupational safety; and information about cooperative programs) and you will find links to press releases, fact sheets, frequently asked questions, technical links, ergonomic e-tools, ergonomics archive and the National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics. The agency has made every effort to link all appropriate documents together, so that with one click, users can find all or most of the material pertaining to that topic in one place - Garrahan's "one-stop shopping."
Within the next four years, the agency hopes to improve search capabilities so that when an EHS professional or employee conducts a search for, as an example, medical surveillance for lead, the link will take them to a drop-down menu that includes not only compliance information, but letters of interpretation, case law, the preamble to the regulation, e-tools etc.
OSHA's Web site offers links to state occupational safety agencies, and don't forget to sign up for QuickTakes, a biweekly electronic newsletter with the latest news from the agency. To subscribe, go to www.osha.gov/delphi-img/QuickTakes/subscribe.html.
The homepage of EPA's Web site includes current news releases and topics, as well as a listing of links to key topics handled by the agency such as air, cleanup, pollutants/toxics and research, to name a few.
Click on the Laws and Regulations link on the homepage and you will be transported to a page that includes an electronic docket and online comment system, major environmental laws, current legislation in Congress, regulations and proposed rules, the Code of Federal Regulations and non-binding guidance documents.
Other links on the EPA homepage take users to pages that provide region-specific links and information, education resources and recent additions to the site.
EPA is working to introduce electronic reporting for all major environmental compliance programs, both for reports submitted directly to EPA and for those submitted to state or local agencies under delegated programs.
Some of the ongoing electronic commerce/electronic data interchange projects where the agency offers or is working on electronic reporting, include the discharge monitoring report (Clean Water Act/National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System), the hazardous waste manifest, safe drinking water laboratory reports (submitted by municipal water systems) and air emissions inventory reports.
The NIOSH Web site serves two functions, says Vern Anderson, Ph.D., chief of the agency's Information Services Branch, Education and Information Division. One is to provide users with current updates on public health topics and occupational health information, and the other is to provide information about specific safety and health topics. Many EHS professionals utilize this resource: In 2001, NIOSH's Web site supported an average of 275,000 visitor sessions a month, up from an average of 180,000 in FY 2000.
The homepage includes dozens of links to publications and databases as well as a link to a list of 70 safety and health topics, ranging from agricultural safety to young worker safety and health. Each topic is actually a collection of information including NIOSH documents and reports and links to related Web sites.
"The neat thing is that everything is free," says Anderson. "Free information and free use of the databases. We send out 1.1 million publications per year based on 60,000 requests we receive via the Internet."
In the past two or three years, says Anderson, the amount of information posted to NIOSH's Web site by four full-time and six contract employees "is almost overwhelming." The greatest challenges the agency faces, he adds, are organizing the information in a way that makes it easy to use and ensuring credibility of the information. "Once it's on the site, you know it's been scrutinized and reviewed for accuracy," he attests.
In general, says Anderson, "It's a wonderful [online] world for people wanting to learn about occupational safety and health. They just have to discriminate between what is good stuff and is relevant and what is promotional material."