High tech health & safety- how it's changing your job
But if you think your job is automated now, just wait. There’s a small army of techno entrepreneurs ready to reinvent just about every facet of health and safety work. Just look at all the dot-com ads coming into ISHN.
“Success in environmental health and safety now depends on collecting and managing information through rapidly changing digital technologies,” claims Gary Rosenblum, a certified industrial hygienist who recently founded Digital Edge Consultants.
“Health and safety organizations have to take a hard look at what they do, because technology will change everything,” predicts Peter Johnson, who came out of the workers’ comp insurance industry to found RiskNetWorldwide.com, which uses the Internet to network a client’s recordkeeping, training, auditing, and purchasing systems.
OK, there are two sides to this revolution. Hype about technology taking over is rampant, and it never seems to happen as quickly as predicted. And what’s happening is threatening to many. Jobs can be “dumbed down” to the point that non-techies can take over. But it’s best to be prepared. Read on and see if you don’t agree with Rosenblum’s advice that “it’s crucial to embrace technology.” Make it work for you, not against you. Here’s how you can do it in 15 typical health and safety jobs:
1. ResearchThis is what the Internet was born to do — and health and safety people have caught on fast. Sixty percent of ISHN readers use the Net to search for regulatory compliance help and 59 percent use it to research specific projects. “I use it to find up-to-date information on chemicals, to find out what is a torn rotator cuff, things like that,” says Safety and Environmental Manager Roger Simpson of the Shelby Williams plant in Morristown, Tenn.
Here’s an example — Want to write a policy for home office safety? Try these sites:
- University of Michigan (www.itd.umich.edu/telecommuting/report/5draft.html)
- Florida State University (fcn.state.fl.us/dms/hrm/telecom/telecom.html)
2. NewsEmail “in” bins are filling up with free health and safety newsletters. Mike Blazedell, founder of WorldSafety.com, (who provided those home office safety Web sites above) sends one every month to 37,400 email subscribers in 110 countries. SafetyOnline’s newsletter reaches more than 54,000 subscribers. There’s also the “EH&S Internet Gazette” from EHSMarketplace.com, and the weekly “Safety Currents” from Coastal Training Technologies.
News updates are mainstays of safety magazine Web sites such as www.ishn.com, and on “safety community” sites such as SafetyOnline.com, SafetyInfo.com, and Worldsafety.com.
News on the Net is getting personal, as an ad for The Wall Street Journal’s e-service says. It’s worth taking the time to find your niche. For instance, there’s MERGInet (www.MERGInet.com) for EMS, fire, rescue, and emergency medical personnel, and for safety pros in the utility industry, there’s www.utilitysafety.com.
You can personalize efforts to stay up with the news using the Mind-It search engine (mindit.netmind.com), which notifies you via email anytime one of your favorite bookmarks (reg agencies, associations, etc.) updates its site.
3. ComplianceAll bookmarks in safety lead to www.osha.gov. OSHA’s alphabetical site index lists 302 topics. The site attracted seven million visitors in 1999. ’Nuff said. And if you think osha.gov is a robust site, check out www.epa.gov.
There are many e-compliance resources. NetCompliance, Inc., Seattle, Wash., recently announced it purchased 135 Internet domain names, customizing compliance assistance for specific industries (such as GasStationCompliance.com and AutoBodyCompliance.com). A virtual library of hundreds of free software packages, databases, and interactive resources is available at www.ehsfreeware.com. WorldSafety.com, Safetyinfo.com, and OSH.Net provide scores of compliance links and programs.
4. TrainingSo much needs to be said about web-based training that we’re devoting our June issue cover story to it. A whole new industry of training content “aggregators” has emerged offering titles from well-known video producers. These one-stop training stores include PureSafety.com, TrainSeek.com, KnowledgeWire.com, TargetSafety.com, Safetypages.com, and RiskNet’s “onlinesafetytraining.”
5. Material safety data sheetsYou can get them free over the Net from manufacturers, universities (Vermont University’s www.siri.org), and portals (www.MSDSprovider.net); via Internet subscription services; from vendors’ software programs that automate downloading of updated MSDSs whenever they are made available; and over corporate environmental health and safety Intranets.
Keep in mind OSHA’s guidelines for working with electronic MSDSs. Among the requirements: Employees must be able to obtain hard copies if needed, and hard copies must be immediately provided to emergency response personnel.
6. PurchasingOnly eight percent of ISHN readers now buy safety products over the Net. Training material, software, and safety eyewear are the most common online purchases, according to readers.
Why isn’t there more e-buying? The top three reasons, according to our survey: Current corporate policies prevent it; buyers want hands-on trials and demos; and buyers still have concerns about the security of Internet transactions.
Still, equipment manufacturers and distributors believe broadband Internet access will make buying online — especially re-ordering standard gear — as simple as phoning or faxing in an order. So both traditional brick and mortar distributors and new online market exchanges are positioning themselves for the future.
You can already find more safety malls online than in your fastest-growing suburb. They include: eSafetygear.com, mysafetyshop.com, EHSmarketplace.com, SafetyInfo.com, SafetyOnline.com, Safetystore.com, Safetysuperstore.com — you get the idea. National distributors selling online include: Fisher Safety (www.fishersci.com), W.W. Grainger (www.grainger.com), Vallen Safety (www.vallen.com), Pro-Am Safety (www.pro-am.com), and others. You can also buy from a growing number of regional and local safety distributors, and from safety catalog houses: Conney Safety Products (www.conney.com), American Health and Safety (www.ahsafety.com), and Lab Safety Supply (www.labsafety.com).
You can’t buy products direct from most manufacturers’ web sites because manufacturers have always sold through distributor partners. But Gas Tech, Inc. (www.gastech-inc.com), is one of the few welcoming buyers. “You get great products at great prices with the least inconvenience,” says Gas Tech President Jack Stephens.
7. Finding a jobCareer centers and job links are standard on many safety web sites, including associations (www.asse.org, www.aiha.org, www.nsc.org).
And there are sites exclusively devoted to helping you find a job, such as www.Empty.net and www.nilesrecruiting.com.
Mike Blazedell of WorldSafety.com says he posts ten jobs a day on his site that he culls from other sites or company postings. In March, he had 678 subscribers to his Job Alert list. He emails a list with more than 300 job links to them, though most are not targeted to safety.
8. Finding a consultantEHS pros can go online and “identify and access a vast array of service providers, and determine their qualifications as well,” says Mark Katchen, founder of The Phylmar Group, which has set up a web site (www.phylmar.com) to do just that.
You can also search for consultants on health and safety community portals. SafetyInfo.com breaks out consultants by region (29 were recently listed in the Northeast) and gives phone numbers, email and web addresses, and descriptions of services.
SafetyOnline.com partners with pengroup.com to offer a search service that allows you to describe your requirements, identify pre-qualified consultants, and check their performance ratings based on previous customers’ experience.
9. Problem-solvingWorldSafety.com’s Mike Blazedell says he answers probably 1,200 emails a day, such as the time a family in Italy had lost a relative at sea and was looking for search and rescue help. Mike monitors more than 64 list servers, has built thousands of links into his site, and is one of those tireless webmasters who loves sharing EHS information and putting people in contact with each other.
Marc Neuffer at SafetyInfo.com is a kindred spirit. He has an “Ask an Expert” section with specific email addresses and web links to experts in more than 50 topics, from playground safety to behavior-based safety. SafetyInfo.com also has OSHA Q&A and Ergo Q&A sections.
If disaster strikes and you must deal with a job-related fatality, you can email Ron Hayes, founder of The FIGHT Project (Families In Grief Hold Together) at his web site (www.oshawatchdog.com).
10. NetworkingEmail is the “killer app” in the online health and safety world — 86 percent of ISHN readers use it regularly.
Most safety community sites offer chat rooms, bulletin boards, discussion forums, and zones. But “eyeball traffic” is often light. Only 10 percent of ISHN readers use these exchanges. Some require you to sign in with a user name and password — and 60 percent of ISHN readers say they are turned off to sites that require registrations. Plus, discussion topics or “threads” are often too narrow, too general, or too opinionated to attract a following. There’s also concern about the quality of technical advice coming from unknown sources.
11. AuditingUse of hand-held devices such as the popular Palm series is projected to explode in the next few years as it becomes easier for devices to run web-based programs, and wireless network bandwidth reaches 64 Kbps by the end of 2000. One estimate has the number of wireless data service subscribers jumping from 3.3 million in 2000 to nearly 36 million by 2003.
This has tremendous implications for any business that involves field work, such as service contractors, truckers, sales reps — and health and safety pros.
RiskNet offers mobile PC systems built on the Microsoft Windows CE platform that allow audits to be conducted electronically anywhere, anytime. Customized safety audits are downloaded onto mobile PC devices. Once the audit is completed, the hand-held device is placed in a docking cradle back at the office and the audits are automatically uploaded to the “Safetylogic” server. Increasing wireless bandwidth will speed up and streamline this process even more.
Now you can have non-safety personnel (particularly in chain operations such as hotels and retail outlets) conducting basic audits, according to RiskNet President and CEO Peter Johnson. Health and safety pros back at headquarters review the field data, spot red flags, run reports on open items, and compare audits across the organization.
Some pros have “impossible jobs” covering thousands of locations, says Johnson. “This takes the legwork out of their jobs and gives them real-time information to jump on problems immediately.”
12. Data collectionAudits aren’t the only EHS application suited for wireless communication. Think of the potential to conduct on-site incident investigations, behavioral observations, and fixed and portable industrial hygiene monitoring, and to transmit data to remote web servers for review. Consultant Darrell Mattheis with Organization Resources Counselors says increasing bandwidth will make it easier to precisely monitor exposures in “smart” (automated) manufacturing processes from remote locations.
Distance has little meaning in the e-world. Last year, for example, Industrial Scientific Corporation introduced an instrument/data management system that allows up to five gas detectors to be linked via a “docking station” with the manufacturer for remote diagnostic work (testing sensors, circuit boards, etc.). Local service providers can then be dispatched for repairs when needed.
13. Program developmentEmployers often run into problems with OSHA when inspectors can’t find documented programs for requirements such as hazard communication and respiratory protection. Developing these programs from scratch is hard, time-consuming work, especially if there is not a full-time health and safety person on the payroll.
Now, of course, you can cut, paste, and customize programs from sites all over the Net. But it pays to do background checks on your sources. Here are a few:
- SafetyInfo.com has a “Programs” section listing more than 30 free written programs, with topics ranging from “Accident Investigation” to “Tool Safety.” The program for “Housekeeping,” for example, is 1,300 words long. Users are invited to “Download, edit and build your company safety manual.”
- Safetydocuments.com sells training outlines, manuals, guides, procedures, forms, job descriptions, and other material.
- OSHA’s “Outreach” section on its web site (www.osha-slc.gov/dts/osta/oshasoft/) offers almost a score of “expert advisor” programs that can be downloaded. Topics include asbestos, confined spaces, fire safety, lockout/tagout, respiratory protection, and hazard awareness. Many of these programs “interview” you about conditions in your workplace to determine what steps you must take to comply, and customized reports are generated based on your answers.
14. BenchmarkingGone are the days when health and safety managers worked in isolation, cut off from making comparisons, and in the dark about their company’s standing among peers.
Want to know the most common OSHA violations in your industry? Check out “Standards Cited for SIC Division or Major Group” on OSHA’s site (www.osha.gov/cgi-bin/std/stdser1?esize=0&state=FEFederal&sic=). Violations by employment size are also available.
Want to know injury and illness incident rates, lost-workday rates, or fatalities for your industry‚ down to four-digit Standard Industrial Classifications? Search a Bureau of Labor Statistics database with more than 600 tables, articles, and other documents — Safety & Health Statistics Home Page / Injury & Illness Data from the Survey of Occupational Injuries & Illnesses / Industry Incidence Rates and Case Counts / Selective Access – National Data (start by going to http://stats.bls.gov/oshhome.htm).
Want to know if any of your competitors have published EHS reports? Check out the EHS Reports web site (www.ehsreports.com/results/phtml) to learn which companies have printed, online, and multimedia EHS documents.
15. Building ValueTechnology is making it easier to collect EHS information, says Gary Rosenblum of Digital Edge Consultants. But he sees a gap between the ability to collect data and how it’s being used. Rosenblum wants professionals to leverage technology to promote EHS achievements and accomplishments, to communicate better to management, and to broaden the audience for EHS information outside the company.
Don’t fear technology, says RiskNet’s Peter Johnson. Use it to save time and money, and increase the speed of problem-solving — all hot buttons with today’s execs.
Wall Street rewards companies that execute business plans sooner, faster, and better. The challenge for health and safety pros is to use technology to help make health and safety — and the entire organization — more efficient, innovative, and responsive.