Did you know that software for palm-sized computers now includes reference programs such as NIOSH’s Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards and DOT’s Emergency Response Guidebook 2000? Yes, a growing array of environmental health and safety software is helping to turn these handy devices from toys into tools. Let’s take a look at how palm-sized computers can help us increase the quantity and quality of our EHS work. After all, computer market analysts predict that by 2003, palm-sized computers will outsell desktop units.

What are they?

Palm-sized computers can easily fit into a shirt pocket. Once the NIOSH guide is installed in a palm-sized unit, for example, it truly becomes a “pocket guide.” (If you’re familiar with the paper form of the NIOSH document, you know that the only pocket it fits in is found in baggy cargo pants.) I use the Palm V™, which measures 4.5 by 3.1 by 0.4 inches and weighs just 4 ounces. Palm-sized computers are different than their cousins, called hand-held computers. A hand-held is larger and contains a very small keyboard. Palm-sized versions don’t have a typical keyboard. You enter and control data by touching or writing on the screen with a stylus (pen). Palm-sized computers now carry enough computing memory, up to 32 MB, to go beyond their early scheduling and recording functions to now run complex technical programs.

Palm, Inc. accounts for 70 percent of the palm-sized computer market. There are more than six million users of Palm devices. Other manufacturers include Hewlett-Packard, Casio, and Compaq. Microsoft launched its Pocket PC this past April. A good palm-sized computer will cost $300 - $500.

These computers generally operate using either Palm’s OS platform or the Microsoft CE platform. Software is selected on the basis of your operating system.

EHS software titles

To find EHS software for a palm-sized computer, the best place to start is at the manufacturer’s web site. In my case it’s www.palm.com. On the manufacturer’s Home Page, you’ll find links to software titles. Click on the links and search separately for titles such as “safety,” “health,” or “environmental” (without quotes). The following web sites also have software for palm-sized computers: www.tucows.com, www.handango.com, and www.handspring.com.

If you’re interested in getting the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards for a Palm computer, go to www.pocketih.8m. The guide can be downloaded for only $10. The DOT Emergency Response Guidebook software is available on the Handango site. Look in the “Business/Professional” section. DOT’s guidebook and other hazardous materials information are contained in the “ChemSet 2000 v.1.0” software, which can be downloaded for $30.

You’ll find more titles with EHS appeal among the more than 350 listed in the Business/Professional section at the Handango site. Some state and federal regulations can also be downloaded. Check out the large quantity of medically related software. There are a lot of free or trial programs.

Growth in software

We haven’t seen anything yet when it comes to palm-sized computer software. This past March, Palm announced that it has registered more than 50,000 developers to create third-party solutions for Palm OS® platform software. You can bet many professional applications will be written. For example, Palm and ePocrates™ Inc. announced this past April an agreement to manufacture and distribute customized Palm computers for physicians and other medical personnel. By the end of this year, ePocrates estimates it will sell more than 100,000 units to people in the medical field.

Some enterprising person or group will soon recognize there is a large market for palm-sized computer use in the EHS field. Once this occurs, software that is currently available for larger computers will be redesigned for palm-sized units. Hopefully, software that fits the highly mobile character of a palm-sized computer will also be created, since EHS pros perform many types of inspections, investigations, and surveys. Think of how a computer that fits in a shirt pocket, contains an extensive electronic reference, and also permits data entry and manipulation, will allow us to become more efficient and accurate at our jobs.

Do you need one?

Palm-sized computers are no longer a novelty. If you’re not familiar with them, visit your local electronics store and try one out. If you are specifically interested in Palm computers, visit the manufacturer’s Web site. You can read about models from companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Casio, or Compaq that use the Windows CE operating system at www.hpcmag.com.

The bottom line? To become better at our jobs we need to embrace technology tools. A palm-sized computer is a tool you should consider using.

Sidebar: The whole world in your palm?

This past April, Delphi, the world’s largest auto-parts supplier, developed an in-vehicle docking station that allows drivers to use voice commands to access their computers made by Palm, Inc. The docking station mounts in a cup holder and controls the computer through a set of voice commands using a driver’s cellular phone. Drivers can access the Internet, e-mail, use global positioning system maps and data, and dial phone numbers recorded in the computer.
  • Microsoft’s Pocket PC will be able to do these tasks and more, including reading electronic books, playing music, recording voice memos, and viewing video clips.
  • Readily sharing information between palm-sized and desktop computers is another standard feature. Computers made by Palm can transfer programs or information by simply pointing them at another Palm The whole world in your palm? continued from page 22 computer. Data is “beamed” between the two devices using an infrared signal.
  • Rather than exchanging common business cards, two Palm computer users can exchange extensive business information electronically. Can you imagine using this feature at a trade show? You wouldn’t have to tote a bag full of product literature. All the data you want could be placed into a palm-sized computer tucked into your shirt pocket.