astonishingly short time, easy access to vast amounts of information
have been placed at our finger tips. Now, you can find almost
everything you want by looking for it on the World Wide Web. Everything,
that is, except for answers to difficult questions. For many topics,
especially federal regulations, getting information is only the
first step. Then you have to figure out what to do. The Occupational
Safety and Healthy Administration (OSHA) has come up with an award-winning
answer for businesses and workers.
National Federation of Independent Business and the National
Restaurant Association have told their members to use these
Expert Advisor tools to help create safe workplaces and to
avoid injuries, illnesses, and OSHA fines.
produced a suite of interactive expert software
programs that interpret and apply complex safety and health
regulations to specific situations.
enable businesses and others to answer a few simple questions
and receive reliable answers on how OSHA regulations apply to
their unique work sites. Topics include Asbestos, Confined Spaces,
Hazard Awareness, and several others. Expert Advisors are provided
free and can be downloaded and run on local personal computers.
Advisors Program Is a Finalist in Innovations in American Government
compliance tool for businesses and workers is a finalist in the
prestigious Ford Foundation "Innovations in American Government"
competition, and won OSHA a $20,000 grant to promote the concept.
It's now in the running for the top ten winners to be announced
in October. Each will receive an award of $100,000 to help replicate
Expert Advisors" program is novel in its synthesis of the following
technologies and strategies:
- It uses
artificial intelligence software to provide expert problem-identifying
and problem-solving help for industry, labor, and the general
public to assist them in determining whether and how OSHA regulations
apply to their situations.
- It combines
the expertise of OSHA's safety and health professionals, compliance
officers, and attorneys into a single source of information.
- It incorporates
the valuable practical experience of the regulated community
by OSHA's partnering with representatives of business, labor,
and the U.S. military in developing the Expert Advisors.
- It provides
this guidance free, 24 hours a day over the World Wide Web,
and it encourages redistribution by business, labor, and professional
- It delivers
consistent, reliable answers to every inquiry.
- It provides
full confidentiality to the user.
goes far beyond information sharing. The Expert Advisors "understand"
the situations of the individuals using these tools, and provide
guidance tailored for their needs. The Advisors also enable OSHA
to assist thousands of businesses without significantly increasing
the number of agency staff or significantly increasing its budget.
help businesses reduce the time-consuming and costly tasks of
learning how major safety and health regulations apply to their
situations. This has been a great source of concern to small business.
Often, small businesses did not know which OSHA regulations affected
their workplaces. To hire a private consultant to identify regulated
hazards could cost them thousands of dollars. As a result, small
businesses often failed to identify problems and therefore did
not correct them. The use of these tools is changing business
practice. The National Federation of Independent Business and
the National Restaurant Association have told their members to
use these tools to help create safe workplaces and to avoid injuries,
illnesses, and OSHA fines.
most important achievement of the Expert Advisors program is providing
reliable, multi-disciplinary, expert help on highly complex topics
to tens of thousands of typical, business people and workers with
a minimal increase in agency resources. Specifically, the program
delivers to the regulated industry at no charge the diagnostic
and problem-solving expertise of industrial hygienists, safety
engineers, occupational physicians, nurses, epidemiologists, risk
assessors, attorneys, and compliance officers from the Department
of Labor and its partners.
of the Advisors, if someone wanted specific occupational safety
and health information, they had to pick up the phone and find
the correct individual within OSHA, send a letter and wait for
a reply, use a federally funded state consultation program, or
hire a costly consultant. Now, OSHA's Advisor program delivers
decision-making expertise from the most knowledgeable people in
the agency to those who need the knowledge the most urgently.
The expertise is provided for free, and OSHA is able to help thousands
of businesses to come into compliance with OSHA standards at a
small fraction of the cost of traditional methods.
Do It Too
demonstrates that it is possible to transfer the complex decision-making
and problem-identifying capabilities of diverse experts to people
who lack and need that expertise, and to do so in an easy-to-use
demonstrates that a very diverse audience of small business owners
and managers, corporate professionals, and military personnel
can use problem-solving, diagnostic software tools from the government.
And it demonstrates that this audience can use expert system software
to help them comply with regulations on technical topics. The
public's response demonstrates that they understand it, can use
it, and want it. The following comment shows business interest.
It is one of many.
the creation of a compliance guide such as the Asbestos Advisor
requires a synergistic effort from all agency personnel who
provide input into its development. For the Advisor to be able
to be created, members of agency departments that work in policy,
compliance, and enforcement must uniformly agree on the requirements
and objectives of the applicable regulations.... The net effect
is a law with requirements understood by both the agency and
the regulated community. NMHC/NAA strongly urge that more agencies
engage in this type of effort and create more ďAdvisor-type'
compliance materials. The Department of Housing and Urban Development
and Environmental Protection Agency would greatly benefit from
such efforts and the apartment industry would greatly benefit
from the clearer guidance."
Nardi Riddle, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs, National
Multi Housing Council/National Apartment Association (NMHC/NAA)
in testimony before the Small Business Administration.
the Complex Easy Is Not Easy to Do
various obstacles in creating the Expert Advisors. The creation
of expert systems is complex. Developers must analyze regulations
to decipher their underlying logic in order to prepare the hundreds
of decision rules needed to diagnose how a regulation applies
to specific sets of facts. Diverse experts, such as engineers,
health scientists, risk assessors, lawyers, economists, and compliance
officers, who speak diverse languages, must have their expertise
woven into a single, easy-to-understand voice. It is a difficult
task and a bit intimidating at first.
matter (domain) experts have doubted that it could be done at
all, and some have been anxious about trying. Some have been anxious
or suspicious about new technology. Other domain experts are reluctant
to share their expertise. Some fear that their roles would be
diminished after sharing their expertise.
is not warranted. Domain experts know vastly more than can be
put into expert systems. The systems are difficult but very interesting,
even fun, to build. The systems will save experts from having
to answer common problems and give them time to work on new problems.
Advisor still presents new challenges. New combinations of technical,
legal, and compliance information must be seamlessly assembled,
so that the finished Advisor provides answers businesses can count
on to be in compliance with the law, and OSHA can count on to
produce safe and healthful working conditions.
Can Do This
proof that it can be done are the excellent interactive expert
Advisors created by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Policy
of the Department of Labor on a variety of Labor laws. That Office
is leading other parts of the Department to create similar Advisors.
You will be seeing similar tools from other agencies. The National
Partnership for Reinventing Government has been encouraging and
supporting their investigation of this strategy. Now, so are the
Ford Foundation and the Council for Excellence in Government.
that the audience that needs the help can help an agency help
them. They know what is confusing to them. They know where they
need help. So, we listen and get good advice. We listen mostly
to representatives of trade associations and labor organizations,
but also to safety professionals in business and others. They
helped us focus on their problems and they helped us get the word
out to the affected community. We would not have a winning strategy
If you are
in the government, think about how this strategy could help your
customers. If you are a member of the public, think about the
problem-solving help you would like from a government agency and
let them know.
is OSHA's facilitator and in house expert on Expert
Advisor software. He also works with the National
Partnership for Reinventing Government to help other agencies
apply this practical technology. You may reach him at (202) 693-1873,
fax (202) 693-1644, or Edward.Stern@osha-no.osha.gov
Trade News Release
Unveils Hazard Awareness Advisor
Innovations in American