Resources to create the world's safest workplaces

July 1, 2000
A column dedicated to fostering the world’s safest workplaces

A basic concern that should be important to every plant professional is the continued safety of the people that make the mines, mills and factories hum around the clock. Environmental health and safety has developed into a technical discipline in its own right. Once again, we dive deeply into the chaos we call the Web in search of free, non-commercial safety resources that every plant manager should have bookmarked on a browser.

The jargon

There is a great deal of arcane language and an enormous body of acronyms that have grown up around safety and environmental regulations, which seem to promulgate (or is it propagate) like mushrooms. What separates the environmental guardians and the safety gurus from those of us actually doing work and making products is their command of that jargon. The first thing we should do here is level the playing field by accessing the definitions of terms and other material that will make subsequent communications with the elite a bit easier. Point your browser to — the Web site of the University of Wisconsin-Superior. The link to the glossary will provide you with:

  • Terms found on material safety data sheets
  • Environmental terms
  • Noise-related terms

If you click on the phrase “Reference Materials,” it will take you to an online version of The Merck Manual of Medical Information (Home Edition); however, there is no access to the venerable Merck Index. Another resource you will find is access to several online NIOSH publications.

First-aid kit

Let’s move to the basic of the basics. How can you claim any interest in safety if you don’t have a first-aid kit? Every home, office and plant needs one. Did you doubt that there is a Web site dedicated to first aid? Go to That page offers many first-aid tips, including what you should have in your first-aid kit.


When you mention industrial safety, the first thought that runs through most people’s minds is OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, that Big Brother watching over our shoulders to ensure we are doing the right thing as defined by OSHA. That view may be arguable, but at least I think our hired hands in Washington finally spent our money wisely by setting up a darned nice Web site at

Here, there is much information that should prove useful. For example, clicking on “Subject Index” in the top left corner of the home page gets you seven pages of links to topics covered on the site. Clicking on “Technical Links” at the bottom returns three pages of links, but it is a bit redundant since the Subject Index already covers the material. Clicking on “Library” will ultimately get you to the official inspection handbook. It’s nice to know what the inspectors plan to do when they arrive to check out your facilities.

OSHA offers free software — The OSHA Advisors — that covers a variety of topics. The general idea is that you load these packages on your machine and the interactive expert systems they contain will give you reports and customized plans designed to keep your plant in compliance. The software does this on the basis of how you answer the questions it asks.

Finally, there is something called “The Workers’ Page.” It gives a basic understanding of what OSHA is and how it works, who is covered by the regulations, worker’s rights and responsibilities, employer responsibilities and other material germane to workers.


Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are an indispensable part of any plant safety program. If your plant uses chemicals, then you will need to maintain an easily accessible file containing data sheets for each chemical that you use. These documents provide information about the physical and chemical properties of the materials, health hazards, fire and reactivity data, first-aid recommendations and other safety-related information. Having the data sheets in a file cabinet somewhere in the plant is a good idea, but this is the age of instant information, and this is a column about the Web.

There are several sites that have searchable MSDS databases., Chicago, Ill., for example, is a data service that has been helping companies with software and services for managing data sheets in electronic form since 1997. You can access its collection of data sheets at Enter either the material’s trade or proper chemical name into the space provided, and the page returns to you a pdf file.

Among sites in which pdf files feature prominently, it’s common practice to give users an opportunity to download a copy of Adobe Reader, the free software that opens the files. I could not find such a link on the MDSDOnline site, so you should get your free Adobe Reader download directly from its producer, Adobe Systems, Inc., at

On the plus side of the ledger, MSDSOnline offers a free copy of a software package called MDSD Manager 4.0, a product for maintaining collections of data sheets right on your desktop. MSDSs can be added with a scanner or over the Web. Visit the site for more details.

Spill response

Advanced Chemical Safety, San Diego, Calif., takes spills seriously. This company posts a page that links to, among other things, a 51-page procedure for responding to spills. The procedure stresses that your employees should know how to respond before an incident occurs. The document could serve as a model training guide for your company’s emergency response team since the guidelines include information about who should be doing what and when. Another link returns 13 pages of forms that help document everything going on during the response to a spill. Since spills are not confined to the operating plant, another link takes you to response procedures for laboratory personnel. Finally, the last link takes you to a couple of pages that describe how to deal with contaminated victims. You will find the details at

Legal issues

When you need to check a specific part of the safety compliance statutes, where do you go? Few of us can spend all day in a law library. What we need is online access to the laws of this great land of ours. There is at least one Web site,, covering the relevant specialties (environmental law a la EPA and health and safety law a la OSHA). Go to  where you will find 22 pages of links to publications, law schools, legal organizations, directories, e-commerce entities and various courts of law. This site claims to interpret the law in simple English, but that is the commercial part of the site; you will need to subscribe to the service if you don’t want to wade through the legalese. Nevertheless, the material is there for the taking and there sure is a lot of it. Clearly, this one should be added to the Great Portal Project.

More safety links

Another Web site found during the research for this column was Don’t be put off by the appearance. What you will get is a list of files with self-explanatory names, each of which takes you to at least one full page of links. The list covers, among other things, confined spaces, fire, housekeeping, ladders and personal protective equipment. From there, you can find your way to articles, relevant OSHA sections, portals and other topic-specific sites.

Doing the math

The folks practicing in the safety arena must learn to make many calculations to confirm compliance with the regulations under which they operate. Most require both intrinsic and extrinsic variables to describe the chemical in question, physical dimensions to describe workspace geometry  and conversion from one unit of measure to another. One Web site that simplifies the mathematics is Go there if you need to perform calculations concerning ergonomics, environmental dispersion models, exposure models and sampling, noise, hearing and radiation, among others.

You’re familiar with the material at the top of a Web page that remains constant, no matter where you go in the site. On the site, that fixed material fills a rather large fraction of each page. When you click on a link and the new page fills the screen, you’re generally looking at something you have already seen several times. You’re forced to scroll down every page to see if it meets your needs. Despite this cumbersome design feature, the site has good material available.

A personal message

Accidents happen. If we planned them, they would not be accidents. People get hurt. But, we don’t want people to die just because they did something stupid. Arrange for your employees to get updated training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first-aid procedures. The cost is minimal compared to the benefits of knowing that each of them will be surrounded by a factory full of people who are capable and competent should something bad happen to any one of them.

There are many places you can get such training. Most trainers will come to your facility and schedule the classes around your operations. Consider contacting the American Red Cross through its Web site at This organization provides training on workplace safety; visit for details.

Too many people have heart problems. You just never know when the old ticker will run down and stop functioning normally. Give your employees training in CPR. One place you can find CPR trainers is at CPR+ Net, which can be found at You can get online instruction on CPR at and at

Let’s have the world’s safest workplaces. Life is already too short.

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