A March, 1995, survey of ISHN readers found that only 16 percent regularly access the Internet. This article is for the rest of you who are wondering what's out there in cyberspace.

This is not an article on how to get connected to the Internet. You can do this in a variety of ways, whether it's through a company connection or by opening an account with an Internet access provider or one of the major online services such as America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy. The type of connection you have, as well as hardware considerations such as modem speed, will determine what Internet services you can use. And not all online services provide access to the World Wide Web.

If you plan to open an Internet account, it's best to read one of the many books available. "The Whole Internet Users Guide and Catalog," "The Internet for Dummies," and "Internet Starter Kit for Windows" are a few helpful resources.

What is the Internet? In short, it's a system of computer networks linked together from all over the world. That means if your computer is connected to the Internet, you can view the files at thousands of other Internet sites that are set up to make information publicly available. You can connect to these computers in a manner of seconds, whether they are around the corner or on the other side of the world.

The Web

The easiest and most popular way to navigate the Internet these days is the World Wide Web. Interest in this service has soared. In June, 1993, for instance, 130 computers on the Internet were set up to provide information on the web. That number jumped to more than 11,000 by December, 1994, and it currently stands at over 15,000, according to one measurement.

The Web offers several significant features. First, it lets computers transmit not only text, but graphics and sounds, over the Internet. It also allows Internet addresses, or links to other computers, to be embedded within a web page. (When navigating the World Wide Web, the files that you see on your computer screen when you connect to another computer are called web pages.)

My type of Internet connection lets me use web browser software, such as Netscape or Mosaic, that offers a graphical interface and supports the use of a mouse. So by simply clicking on one of these links, I can bring up another file stored on the current computer I'm connected to or open up a connection to another computer across the country. (With some Internet connections that don't support graphics, you would simply use the tab key to highlight that link.)

To get an idea of how much information is available and how easy it is to locate, consider the path I took while researching this article. Let's start with OSHA's web page in Washington, D.C. OSHA's web page lets you view and download a copy of the draft ergonomics proposal, and check out other government Internet sites, or other safety and health links. A few more mouse clicks, and here's what I gained access to: EPA Chemical Substance Fact sheets from the University of Virginia, and Internet web sites for NIOSH, the National Library of Medicine, and Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. I also found links that would lead me to MSDSs online at the University of Utah, OSHA Federal Register notices, OSHA regulations, preambles to regulations, the field inspection reference manual, corporate wide settlement agreements, and standards interpretations.

Easy exploring: One of the benefits of the Web is the ease with which you can explore to dig up information. Consider the path I followed when I clicked on the phrase "Other safety and health links." This took me to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, whose computer is in Canada. There, I found a link entitled Computer-Related RSI primer, which took me to a computer at the University of Nebraska.

This primer on computer related ergonomic disorders included a general discussion of the hazards, as well as textand pictures on some stretches that could be used to address this problem. It also included a link with specific information on pointing devices, such as a computer mouse. I followed this link to the University of California Berkeley where I came across some findings from a bioengineering Ph.D. candidate working at the ergonomics laboratory and conducting research on biomechanical, physiological, and ergonomic factors surrounding pointing devices. I then jumped back to the computer-related RSI primer page, because it included another link pointing to a typing injury resources list.

I followed this and found more than 50 links to documents containing information on topics such as keyboards for users with motion disabilities, tendonitis, dealing with insurance and lawyers, picking supports and splints, and how to correctly use arm rests. Using my browser software, which remembers all the sites I've visited, I then jumped back to the original OSHA page. Here's a small sampling of the information I found on other safety and environmental web pages that OSHA had links to.

EPA: Visit EPA's web page, and you find information on press releases, free software, EPA initiatives, rules, regulations, and strategy documents, to name a few. A few mouse clicks will let you download a summary, (or the entire report), for the recently announced Toxic Release Inventory data for 1993. Another link leads you to a pollution prevention directory that includes a list of resources such as clearinghouses, databases, periodicals and directories, hot lines, and an index of centers and associations. Or follow the links to EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response and you'll find a copy of the agency's RCRA Hazardous Waste Minimization plan announced in May, 1994.

NIOSH: Jump over to the NIOSH web page and download some fact sheets on indoor air quality, back belts, and carpal tunnel syndrome. You can also find a list of available publications, and information on how to get NIOSH training videos.

Congress: Over at the House of Representatives' web site you'll find a range of links that let you check on the status of proposed legislation, search for a bill, download the text of a particular bill, and check on the schedule for hearings.

Bureau of Labor Statistics: The BLS has a range of injury and illness information you can download. One link provides you with a list of contacts and phone numbers. Another fills your computer screen with the report on 1992 worker injuries and illnesses by selected characteristics.

The time factor

In evaluating this brief tour of the Internet, there are several points to keep in mind. First, finding information can take some time. This brief journey took me about ten minutes, but there's no question that you can waste time exploring dead ends while browsing on the Web. On the other hand, by taking a few minutes to follow some links, you can stumble upon a gold mine of valuable data. Consider also that once you have found a web page that's helpful, your web browser can save the address for that site.

So next time you log on you needn't start at OSHA's web page and follow 10 links to reach that one resource you found helpful.

You can also locate information at web sites that offer databases and search engines that let you search by keyword for a comprehensive listing of Internet sites addressing your topic.

Lastly, keep in mind that because many web sites are new, web page designers are constantly revising their information offerings while trying to discover what users will find helpful.