New technologies are making a large impact in the health and safety industry. Extensible Mark-up Language (XML) is being used to integrate the vast information resources that previously were kept in reams of paper in company file cabinets or in proprietary applications.

The driving need to open up these proprietary systems and extract the valuable information they contain has led to the development and use of Web services in the health and safety industry. Web services, which utilize XML as the common communications protocol for sharing of informational resources, make up the building blocks for the much heralded .Net product from Microsoft.


XML was created so that electronic documents could easily be shared and different applications could "talk" together. XML solves the problems that companies often face when trying to get disparate systems or applications to talk to each other. XML is platform- and application-independent and vendor-neutral.

XML is a syntax or meta-language. It uses plain text tags to markup data within its content to convey information. The key features of XML are that it is extensible, meaning that unlike HTML for example, you are not limited by a fixed set of tags. In addition, it has a strict structure and is self-validating. XML is currently being used in all of the major industries including manufacturing, medical, aviation, telecommunications, publishing and government to name just a few.

XML is particularly attractive to the health and safety industry where the ability to share information is critical. Proprietary data formats of the past have made information-sharing difficult at best. Longevity of these formats was typically subject to how long the system was around to support them. XML is human-readable plain text, which allows much easier reuse of data systems that are yet to come.

Flexible alternative

The exchange of bulk information between companies, corporations, customers and regulators is routine. The typical method is a spreadsheet, CAD drawings, word processor documents, small databases or even text delimited files. XML provides the flexible alternative to data exchange without the extensive time and labor overhead of comparing and re-keying data.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are obvious documents that can take advantage of the XML format. The wealth of information contained within MSDS has historically been difficult for software applications to access and has required manufacturers to maintain their data in many different formats. It has required labor-intensive data entry in order to report and search these documents electronically. By having this information in XML, it can be easily formatted for human reading or processed by other software applications.

OSHA documentation and recordkeeping as well as training applications are another prime area for taking advantage of XML.

Web services

Web services are means for software systems to communicate and subscribe to the services of other systems over the Web and within the local network. Web services utilize XML as a common denominator for communicating because of its portability.

Utilizing Web services, existing software applications can expose their functionality to become the building blocks of other applications. Because Web services are platform-neutral, system integrators can utilize them to connect internal systems. By exposing the functionality of existing internal systems, total cost of development is lowered.


XML and Web services are cornerstones in Microsoft's latest technology, .NET. Microsoft.NET combines the power of XML and Web services with a modern software development platform. Software written in Microsoft.NET can be easily connected by Web services and data interchange as XML.

Microsoft.NET represents a collection of new software technologies, including new tools for software developers, server platforms and support for smart devices. Microsoft.NET applications written for the health and safety industry will benefit from the easier integration within and among other businesses.

SIDEBAR: Putting Web services to use

Some examples of how Web services can be utilized include:
  • Software for mobile devices can take inventory counts and report those counts to a central inventory system via a Web service.
  • OSHA reporting software can use Web services to connect to HR software for employee information.
  • Emergency response software can contact MSDS informational services to obtain current handling instructions.
  • MSDS data can be integrated with inventory and purchasing for regulatory reporting.