We recently conducted an online (what else) focus group with a dozen safety and health professionals to learn how they currently use the Internet. We wove their comments together with results from several mail surveys we've conducted of hundreds of professionals to compile this list - "Ten traits of Internet users in the safety world."

1) All aboard

From our broader polling it's clear safety and health pros are all over the Internet. Four out of five (83% actually) jump on either from the office, at home, or both. The Net is now a routine part of everyday safety work.

2) Keep it practical

Sending e-mail, deciphering regulations, and researching projects are the top Internet applications for safety and health pros. Almost everyone (86%) has come to rely on e-mail. About 60% use the Net for compliance assistance. "I keep a directory of regulatory web sites, each state and local government agency seems to have their own," reports Earl Delgrosso, director of environmental health and safety for Treasure Chest Advertising, headquartered in Baltimore.

"The Internet is a great way to find information on an enormous number of topics quickly and easily," sums up an industrial hygienist working for a Washington-based consulting firm.

3) Start your engines

Safety and health pros love to rev up those search engines to find what they need in the vastness of cyberspace. Most of our focus group participants make regular use of them. "I use the search engines because sites come and go and sometimes domain names and site addresses change," says Delgrosso.

4) Hit and run

Many pros like to get on the Net, do their business, and get off. Sixty percent spend less than an hour a day online. Consultant George Shirley in Sulphur, La., used to spend upwards of 100 hours a month online several years ago. Now if he's on for 30 hours every month it's a lot, he says. "The search engines are so good it makes it easier to find what I need. I also used to be more curious than I am now," he says.

"I'm a hit-and-run Net user," reports Ernie Huelke, who runs his own consulting business in Chicago while holding down a full-time industry job. "I'm not one to surf just for the sake of surfing. I'll copy, paste, and then go back to the material after I am off-line."

5) All bookmarks lead to OSHA

Too bad OSHA doesn't accept advertising on its web site-just about every safety pro in our focus group lists www.osha.gov as one of their top two or three bookmarks. Given the regulatory focus of the profession, it's not surprising that www.epa.gov and www.cdc.gov/niosh also get frequent mention, as do sites containing databases of material safety data sheets, such as www.msdssearch.com. Travel-related sites (maps, weather, reservations, guides) are popular, too.

6) Ties that bind

Favorite Net bookmarks often turn out to be extensions of loyalties (memberships, subscriptions), hobbies, and business interests forged in the bricks and mortar world. Frequently cited sites are associations (National Safety Council, American Industrial Hygiene Association, American Society of Safety Engineers) and favorite newspapers, business magazines, and trade magazines (Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, of course).

7) New habits are hard to mold

It's interesting to note what our focus group did not often mention when asked about their favorite web sites. Portals and vendor sites, for example. Only one professional listed a portal (a site that attempts to build a community of like-minded visitors through customized content offerings) as among his favorite destinations. And only two mentioned frequently visiting product vendors' sites.

8) So who's shopping?

Only three of our 12 focus group participants mentioned buying anything on the Net (computer supplies, airline tickets, and flowers). This actually works out to be a higher percentage than results from our surveys. Ninety-one percent of pros say they currently buy none of their PPE online, which makes sense if safety pros aren't visiting vendors' sites or e-commerce portals.

9) Print still has a place

WhewÉ no one in the focus group plans to forsake print magazines or newspapers for online news and views. George Shirley says he still likes the "print rags" because he can pick 'em up and put 'em down when he wants. "If I know the print copy is coming, I won't bother to download," says consultant Tom Lawrence.

Still, Bob Veazie, a behavioral safety coordinator for Hewlett-Packard, offers this observation: "Internet users over 40 years old won't change their reading habits. But watch out for the kids in school now. My 15-year-old son is glued to the Net."

10) Enough is enough

Several pros we talked to online say they get enough of the Internet at work and don't use it at all at home. "I don't touch my computer at home regarding work," says one safety and health director. "I don't have Internet access at home."