OSHA uses site to make workplace safe

OSHA uses site to make workplace safe

Labor agency's Web structure combines two separate URLs, focuses on employers and employees

By Drew Robb

Special to GCN

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sees its Web site as an extension of its efforts to improve workplace safety.

OSHA's home page, which focuses on programs, conferences, news and current topics, loads fast because its graphical elements are small and not animated.

The Labor Department agency posts a vast fund of safety data on its fast-loading and easily navigable Web site, at www.osha.gov. The site has minimal graphics, none of them animated. The largest graphical element on the home page is only 13K.

OSHA officials designed the site with employers and employees, not government officials, in mind.

OSHA reports a 50 percent decline in the overall workplace death rate since the agency's beginning in 1970. But 6,000 people still die each year from workplace injuries, 50,000 die from illnesses caused by workplace chemical exposure and 6 million suffer nonfatal workplace injuries. The cost to the national economy is an estimated $110 billion per year.

The current site structure, unveiled last June, combines two separate uniform resource locators, one maintained by OSHA's headquarters in Washington and the other by its technical center in Salt Lake City.

Traffic statistics

' 14.7 million hits in June 1999, up 3 million from last October

' 350,000 distinct hosts served each month

' More than 750,000 monthly sessions

' 80 percent of visits by employers and employees; 20 percent from educational sites, other government sites and nonprofit organizations

As visitors activate links from the home page, they occasionally find themselves at the technical center's site, at www.osha.gov/SLTC. Both locations have an alphabetized index and full search capability, and the linked design moves visitors seamlessly back and forth.

Overall, the two URLs can give a visitor access to 20,000 documents and files, as well as an interactive mainframe database of all closed inspection records for the past 20 years. The inspection records database, the Integrated Information Management System, gets twice-daily updates by OSHA area offices.

Speaking the language

Most of the content is in static Hypertext Markup Language documents, with some Perl scripting, Java and JavaScript. A few Adobe Portable Document Format and Microsoft PowerPoint presentations are available.

Best and worst features

+Fast-loading and easy to navigate

+Search and index links on nearly all pages

+Extensive data about a wide range of topics

'Not organized for the varying interests of site visitors

'Hard to get to the Virtual Library from the home page

The home page focuses on ongoing programs, conferences, news and hot topics. Along the left side are five buttons for the main sections of the site: About OSHA, Newsroom, Regulations, Library and Outreach. There are links for year 2000 issues, job openings, a quarterly newsletter, Labor's Web site and an alphabetical subject index.

Further down the page, the five site sections break out further into subsections. At the bottom of the page are the site's privacy statement, disclaimer and contact information. Nearly every page has links to the home page, search engine and site index.

Documents available on the site include regulations, interpretations, press releases, statistical data, research studies and materials designed to help in safety programs. These range over topics as diverse as digging trenches safely to avoiding blood-borne pathogens.

System details

'Web servers: Both sites have Sun Microsystems Inc. servers running SunSoft Solaris, each with 512M of RAM and 8G of storage. Compaq Alpha servers running Digital Unix provide backup and additional

'Application servers: Apache Software Foundation's freeware Web server

'Internet connections: Dual T1 lines in Washington; single T1 in Salt Lake City

' Search engine: Verity from Verity Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.

The site maintains extensive links to safety-related documents of other agencies and organizations. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health links provide useful descriptions and diagrams about safety improvement for many job categories, for example. Contact information appears for all OSHA offices nationwide and for the corresponding state agencies.

Also posted are a calendar of upcoming conferences and training sessions, materials safety data sheets and testing methodologies for thousands of chemicals.

Although 80 percent of the visitors are employees and employers, the site seems geared more to professionals than to individual workers or concerned business owners. Some basic and immediately applicable information is mixed in with the various scientific studies rather than being readily accessible.

Visitors who want useful facts and safety instructions rather than lengthy technical dissertations will find the most help in the Newsroom section under the links for publications, fact sheets and frequently asked questions.

Site editorial board

'Bob Curtiss, site technical editor, OSHA Technical Support Directorate

'Marty Childress, OSHA Internet coordinator, IT Directorate

'Jim Kallenborn, liaison, IT Directorate

'Kerri Lawrence, OSHA public affairs officer

'Ann Shields, Minnesota OSHA employee

'Ann Soiza, Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act Services staff member

'Todd Jordan, Technical Support Directorate staff member

The Salt Lake City Technical Center has a virtual library page, at www.osha-slc.gov/SLTC/virtlib.html, with access to slide presentations and videos. It contains, for instance, a slide show about proper loading and operation of forklifts. But the virtual library has no home page or site index link. Visitors who already know what they are looking for can get to it through the search engine, but otherwise the library is hard to find.

Management of the OSHA Web site falls under the Information Technology Directorate, headed by Cheryle Greenaugh.'Personnel from offices throughout the agency provide guidance and content for the site.

Working under the IT Directorate, the OSHA Web support team includes federal employees and contractors in Washington and Salt Lake City. They develop and maintain static HTML content on servers at both locations. The support team also helps the program offices create Web content. The Washington and Salt Lake City servers are tied together through hypertext links.

OSHA Internet coordinator Marty Childress said that 'having an east and a west location supporting the overall site offers the advantage of load balancing between servers in both locations.'' Also, he said, mirroring the content avoids hardware and network service disruptions.

Site support team

'Todd Jordan, site manager

'Maggie Davies, site quality control coordinator

'Rachel Seat, HTML coordinator

'Mike Harris, graphics specialist

'Kym Pond, webmaster

OSHA is making a transition to Oracle Application Server to host all content in an Oracle database, except for the mainframe inspection histories, Childress said.

Oracle Application Server will dynamically generate the future Web pages, he said, and maintaining the content in Oracle will help program offices make updates directly through the agency's WAN, OSHANet.

Other plans include upgrading the Web server hardware, firewalls and routers to improve performance. The site needs more bandwidth to handle the traffic load, and dedicated servers will deliver video training materials, Web forums, online conferences and other applications, Childress said.

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