What on earth is an "eTool"?

December 1, 2004
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How many hats do you wear at work? Safety supervisors can also serve as human resource directors, maintenance managers, shop foremen, or who knows what else. You might be squeezed for time and money when it comes to implementing an effective safety program.

Want some convenient, quick, free-of-charge advice? An expert to help you understand how safety pays, or how to uncover construction site hazards or comply with any number of regulations? This is where you could use… OSHA?

Yes, OSHA. The federal agency once known as a heavy-handed regulation ogre is trying hard to become more of a helping hand — offering employers compliance assistance 24/7 through its Web site, www.osha.gov. One way OSHA is accomplishing this is through its library of eTools.

Interactive training

eTools are interactive, Web-based training programs that cover a wide range of occupational safety and health topics. These easy-to-navigate pages are heavy on graphics and illustrations and use menus to steer you through the content. Eleven eTools use expert system modules, which enable you to answer questions to receive reliable advice on how OSHA regulations apply to your work site. A list of the more than 45 current eTools is available at: http://www.osha.gov/dts/osta/oshasoft/index.html.

The most popular eTools cover entire industries, such as the Construction, Healthcare and Shipyard eTools, according to OSHA’s Office of Communications. The Construction eTool, for example, helps safety pros identify and control the hazards that commonly cause the most serious construction injuries.

The eTool addressing ergonomics for Computer Workstations is also very popular due to its wide application. It provides advice on such ergo issues as proper working positions as well as work components like keyboards, mouses, desks and chairs. This eTool also offers a checklist that can help you create a safe and comfortable computer workstation.

Layer upon layer

eTools make it easy for you to find information about potential hazards and possible solutions specific to your work tasks or work locations. For example, if you want to learn what hazards may be present — as well as what controls to consider — in a pharmacy at a hospital, simply select “Pharmacy” from the main graphic of the Hospital eTool. Once you’re “in” the Pharmacy, you’ll find links to common safety and health topics like “Disposal of Hazardous Drugs,” “Latex Allergy,” and a lot more.

Safety and health information is “layered” within the eTools so that they are helpful to users with different levels of expertise. The first two layers, for example, might provide an overview of hazards and controls to workers, non-safety supervisors, or even safety professionals who are new to the industry. More technical information is “buried” through hyper-links into content of more interest to safety professionals. You can drill down and search layer upon layer depending on how much detail you are looking for.

Graphic menus, illustrations, video clips and animations enhance your eTools experience.

Help from alliances

Who are the experts behind these eTools? Agency technical personnel, of course, with an assist sometimes from OSHA’s many alliance programs. Through alliances, OSHA has been able to involve industry representatives in the eTool development process. For example, you’ll notice credits pages for Airline Baggage Handling, Shipyard Employment, and Ammonia Refrigeration (Phase I) eTools. These pages identify industry experts who have helped develop the eTools. Having industry experts involved in eTool development helps to ensure accuracy and applicability of the information provided.

So if you’re wearing many hats these days and struggling to find the time to seek out safety and compliance assistance resources, check out OSHA’s library of eTools. They are one reason OSHA’s Web site is attracting 50 million visitors each year.

SIDEBAR: Download and go

Four eTools — Confined Space, Fire Safety, Hazard Awareness and Lead in Construction — are available as downloadable files for offline use. All OSHA eTools consist of a series of Web pages specific to the topic, and many reference documents on the OSHA Web site (e.g., standards, directives, publications) or on other government sites. The downloadable version of each eTool is designed to provide training materials without the need to be connected to the Internet. (Note: A downloadable eTool represents materials on the Internet at the time it was created. Materials may have been updated after that date.)

SIDEBAR: What’s in the “library”?

Here’s a partial list of topics covered by OSHA eTools:

  • Hazard Awareness
  • Safety Pays
  • Fire Safety
  • Health and Safety Plan
  • Safety and Health Management
  • Respiratory Protection
  • Lockout/Tagout
  • Machine Guarding
  • Evacuation Plans
  • Eye and Face Protection
  • Scaffolding
  • Asbestos

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