OSHA Unveils Online Hazard Awareness Advisor
By Ed Stern
December 14, 1998
In early January 1999, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will release the final version of a unique, "intelligent," diagnostic software called the Hazard Awareness Advisor for business owners, managers, and employees. It uses an interactive, expert interview process to identify likely workplace hazards and the OSHA standards that address them.
The new release follows a stream of web-based applications that OSHA has introduced in the last few years. Aware that some safety and health topics are very technical, the agency created intelligent software, the OSHA Advisors, to help non-professionals deal with Asbestos in '95, Confined Spaces in '96, Fire Safety in '97, and Lead in Construction in '98.
The earlier problem-solving web-based tools help businesses and workers figure out whether and how these technical standards apply to their work. They have taken tens of thousands of copies from the OSHA Website and redistributed them in large numbers.
But What If You Don't Know What Constitutes a Workplace Hazard?
Many people used a search engine on the Web to locate the Advisors dedicated to subjects. The OSHA Advisors help you figure out how certain rules on that subject apply. But a small businessperson may not know enough to ask about asbestos, for example. The search engines do not tell you which rules you should be looking for. How do you find workplace hazards you don't even know about?
Similar safety and health problem plagues managers of numerous businesses, big and small, across the country. Many managers are unaware of the safety and health hazards in their work place.
OSHA Introduces the Hazard Awareness Advisor
To meet the need, OSHA came up with another strategy that goes beyond the topical Advisors.
To develop the new Hazard Awareness Advisor, OSHA sought and used advice from the:
Best of all the Hazard Awareness Advisor is free, and it's confidential.
The response to the 1998 Public Test Version has been overwhelming. In the last four months of 1998, businesses and workers have taken about 8,500 copies of the Public Test Version from the OSHA website, and they sent in useful suggestions for its refinement.
The new Advisor asks thoughtful questions about activities, practices, equipment, materials, conditions and policies at the workplace. Based on what it learns from the user, the program asks necessary follow-up questions. Then, the Advisor software draws conclusions from the user's answers about the workplace.
The decision logic and expertise comes from industrial hygienists and safety professionals from OSHA, labor, and industry. The Advisor prepares customized reports, which range from four pages to more than 30 pages. You won't get a lot of pages, unless you really need them. This process can take anywhere from four minutes for an office or a small dress shop to 15 minutes for a complex manufacturing operation.
Customers Like the New Product
"The OSHA Hazard Awareness Advisor is an excellent program," said Thomas R. Luisser, Ph.D. Ed.D. "My company just underwent an OSHA inspection, and I can see the validity of the information generated by your program. I wish I had discovered it before the inspection."
The Hazard Awareness Advisor provides a broad overview of the likely problems at a site. It provides a limited amount of guidance on a wide range of topics. For additional expert help, it points you to OSHA's existing in-depth Advisors on Fire Safety, Asbestos, Confined Spaces, Cadmium, and up-coming Advisors on Respirators, Control of Hazardous Energy, and Lead in General Industry.
Advisors Will Work for Other Organizations, Too
OSHA's Public Test Version was designed for small businesses, but other workplaces wanted it, too and the version that comes out in January will include them. For example, Emma L. Dennison, the human resource director of the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office in Punta Gorda, FL, made a suggestion that OSHA used. "I liked the new software program," she wrote, "but could you put Governmental agencies as one of the groups? We have an established safety committee, but I really would love to have a computer software program that I could get on our office computers that would allow the safety committee members to use to check each of their assigned locations for how well we are doing."
OSHA plans to adapt the final version to a broader audience because of Emma Dennison's comments.
These Advisors hold the powerful problem-solving knowledge of safety and health professionals. But they are not designed for those professionals, even though professionals use them, too. They are for the average employer, manager, or worker concerned with occupational safety and health.
"I downloaded the software and found it easy to install and most helpful in providing a written list of areas to review for compliance," said an expert on facility management.
This intelligent technology can help with decision making with all kinds of rules, benefits, options, and choices that people face. Other business professionals realize the value of this technology and urge other government service providers to follow OSHA's lead in providing excellent customer service.
"Take a look at the expert system OSHA has just unveiled," said Jim Van Wert of the Small Business Administration. "It's a good start and example of how we can use technology to help small businesses through the maze of regulations."
Check out the Hazard Awareness Advisor and other Advisors at http://www.osha-slc.gov/dts/osta/oshasoft/. Then, see how other parts of the Department of Labor are implementing this strategy at http://www.dol.gov/elaws.
About the Author
Edward Stern is the Facilitator for Advisors at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Washington, DC. You may reach him at (202) 693-1873 or Edward.Stern@osha-no.osha.gov
OSHA's Asbestos Advisor
From "BEST IT PRACTICES IN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT,"- A Joint Project of the Chief Information Officers Council and the Industry Advisory Council. October 1997