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Tuesday, 15 February 2011 18:13

Finding and Using Information

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As the fund of accumulated knowledge relating to safety and health grows and is publicized by general and specialized media alike, concerns having to do with personal health in general, with environmental hazards and with occupational safety and health have been receiving increasing attention. Especially with respect to the workplace, the principle that both employers and employees have a need and a right to be supplied with adequate safety and health information is becoming more and more clearly recognized and actively implemented.

Need for Information

Reliable, comprehensive, and intelligible information is essential to the securing of occupational safety and health (OSH) objectives. This information must be conveniently accessible, up-to-date, and directly applicable to the specific circumstances of the user. But the great variety of work settings and the enormous volume and diversity of OSH information, whether touching upon toxicology, biochemistry, behavioural science or engineering, challenge the providers of such information to attend to such needs as the following:

  • academic or theoretical information, required by sophisticated technical or scientific specialists and researchers
  • practical information, required by regulators, employers and employees
  • legislative information, required for developing and implementing policies, training employees and employers, developing and implementing OSH programmes and complying with OSH requirements. The responsibilities of safety professionals and of representatives and committee members assigned to safety-related duties normally include providing information to others. Furthermore, in many countries safety and health laws require information: (a) to be provided to workers by governments, employers, and chemical suppliers, among others; and (b) to be generated by organizations such as the companies to which the laws apply.

 

Occupational safety and health information is needed in order:

  • To make informed decisions. Occupational safety and health information enables regulators, legislators, OSH professionals, labour and industrial organizations, employers and workers to make sound decisions concerning a healthy and safe work environment. These decisions can include the development and implementation of occupational safety and health policies, regulatory requirements, and safety and health programmes appropriate for the workplace.
  • To safely discharge duties. Workers need occupational safety and health information in order to take day-to-day decisions regarding the effective yet safe performance of their duties. Employers require it in order to train their employees to take these decisions.
  • To meet legislative and regulatory requirements. Without complete and accurate occupational safety and health information, workers, employers, labour organizations and occupational safety and health professionals would be unable to meet these mandates.
  • To exercise rights. Increasing numbers of workers have been accorded the right to know about the hazards involved in their duties and to participate in decision-making regarding their work environment. In some countries, they have the right to refuse dangerous work.

 

Effective Information Dissemination

The following considerations need to be addressed in order to ensure that a dissemination programme for occupational safety and health information will be effective.

  1. The information must be presented in a form that is suited to the needs, circumstances and background of the end-user. For example, documents containing technical information may be more useful to occupational safety and health professionals than to those employees and employers who usually are less familiar with technical language. However, consideration should always be given to converting technical material into lay language in order to effect a comprehensive occupational safety and health information programme. To be effective, occupational safety and health information must be useful and understandable.
  2. Alternative audiences should be considered. For example, an article on hazards in commercial restaurants should be of interest to schools, prisons and other institutions that have dining facilities.
  3. Information must reach the people who need it, and a comprehensive strategy should be developed to communicate it to them. Available methods include direct mail to individuals on a purchased or developed mailing list; presentations at seminars, symposiums and training courses; exhibits at professional conferences as well as at meetings of workers and small businesses; and advertisements in trade and professional periodicals.
  4. Frequently, secondary disseminators can be used to augment a dissemination strategy. These cooperative endeavours encourage consistency, reduce duplication and benefit from the secondary disseminators’ strengths. For example, after serving as a document reviewer, a trade association representative may be interested in making an employee-related publication available to the membership or, minimally, advising the members of the original document’s availability. Secondary disseminators can also reduce costs because they may be willing to reprint the material for those who may need it, particularly if they are loaned the camera copy or negatives.

[V. Morgan]

User Population

Occupational safety and health encompasses the full spectrum of work activities and occupations. Information on safety and health relating to these activities is needed by people who have responsibility under the law for ensuring safe and healthy working environments or who may be detrimentally affected by hazards originating—even remotely—in work activities. These include: people  who  are  directly  involved  with  hazards  at  work  or who are engaged professionally in occupational safety and health; people from other organizations that provide services to a workplace; and communities and the general public who may be exposed, perhaps at a greater remove, to any deleterious effects of work processes. Consequently, the user profile for occupational safety and health information covers an extremely broad range of types.

First, there is the decision maker. In every establishment, several categories of people occupy key decision-making positions that directly (and, often enough, indirectly) affect the health and well-being of people associated with the particular workplace, those in the surrounding communities and others who may be affected by the establishment’s practices. These people may be employers, senior line managers, members of joint safety and health committees, safety and health representatives or specialist staff responsible for safety and health, purchasing, training and information management. All of these categories of people need adequate information in order to carry out their safety-related functions effectively and to take informed decisions concerning OSH problems and how to deal with them.

Employees themselves are by no means exempt from the need to acquire and act upon OSH information. All employees, whether self-employed, working in any other part of the private sector or for a government establishment, regardless of country, location, industry or role, have a responsibility towards safety and health that is associated with their work and that requires information according to their particular circumstances. All need to know what present or potential hazards they may be exposed to and to be familiar with possible solutions and preventive measures, what their rights and responsibilities are and what resources they have at their disposal that can help them carry out their duties in this connection.

In the field of safety and health itself, managers who are specifically responsible for safety and health in the workplace and practitioners in occupational safety and health and related fields—nurses and physicians (whether in-house or on-call), safety educators, safety inspectors and others whose expertise comprises workplace safety, health and hygiene—are constantly in need of information on various occupational safety and health concerns to carry out their daily responsibilities.

Although many people and organizations are in contact with workplaces only through the services they provide, it should be borne in mind that they may have a safety-related impact on the workplaces they serve and, in turn, may be affected by their contact with these environments. The suppliers of equipment, materials and chemicals to such consumers as factories and offices, industry associations, trade unions, transport services, inspection services or worker health services, must make it their concern to examine whether their mutual relationship may imply any potential for the development of unsuspected safety problems and in order to do so, they need information concerning the specific circumstances associated with providing their services to the various workplaces.

Academics and researchers working in subject areas associated with workplace safety and health are heavy users of information on those subjects, including review materials and reports of current and past research. Technical and scientific information is also needed by professionals in fields such as engineering, chemistry, medicine and information management itself. In addition, for purposes of reporting on specific events or concerns, professionals in the public media must seek background information on OSH topics so that they may in turn inform the general public.

Another category of OSH information users are governments at all levels—local, regional and national. Policy makers and legislators and regulators, planners and other bureaucrats all deal with occupational safety and health issues that bear upon their particular functions.

On perhaps the largest scale of information need and use as far as breadth of dissemination is concerned, there is society itself. Environmental and health concerns and greater recognition of citizens’ rights, together with the impact of modern means of communication, have heightened society’s awareness of occupational safety and health issues and created a vast demand for information so that society as a whole is now making increasing—and large—demands for information on various occupational safety and health concerns. Consumers, communities in proximity to work establishments and the public in general are concerned about the activities that are carried out in workplaces and about the products they produce, and want to know about their safety and health implications. In particular, citizens’ groups and lobbyists concerned about the safety and health of communities want information on all aspects of hazards related to workplace activities such as production, emissions to the environment, transportation and waste disposal that are relevant to their cause.

There are enormous complexities in informing this diverse spectrum of information users who represent different backgrounds, education levels, cultures, languages and levels of knowledge of OSH (not to mention work environments). In order to be effective, the content, presentation and accessibility of the information must be targeted to meet the specific needs of these various categories of user.

[V. Morgan and P.K. Abeytunga]

Nature of Safety and Health Information

Quality of information

OSH information needs to be authoritative and, more important, validated by experts. Authoritative information comes from official and recognized sources or organizations, but one must be aware that information from other sources, which does not appear to have been validated, is increasingly being produced. Some examples of errors due to lack of validation are:

  • Measurements are not checked and appear with the wrong abbreviations (e.g., “m” (meaning metres) instead of “mm” (meaning millimetres).
  • The decimal point is in the wrong place in an exposure limit.
  • The wrong chemical name is used.
  • Illustrations show incorrect safety and health practices.

 

Problems with occupational safety and health information

Although there is an overwhelming amount of occupational safety and health information, there are areas where the information is sparse or not collected in an accessible format. The necessary information is fragmented among various subject areas and sources, many information sources are biased and information is often not available or not in a usable form for the many people who need it. To save the information seeker time the following points should be noted.

Legislation: All legislation on occupational safety and health is available but there is not, as yet, a central database of legislation from all countries. The International Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre (CIS), headquartered at the International Labour Office (ILO), has made some efforts in this area, but CISDOC, the CIS database, is not fully comprehensive. In the United Kingdom, the University of Salford European Occupational Safety and Health Law Unit has a complete up-to-date collection of the full text of the occupational safety and health legislation of the European Union Member States including the European Directives in place in each country. This collection is widening to include the Scandinavian countries and ultimately the rest of the world. The UK Safety and Health Executive Information Service headquarters in Sheffield also has a complete set of the full text of the legislation of the European Union Member States, but it is correct only up to 1991. There are a number of databases available giving reference to legislation of different countries and also some printed updating services available in different countries.

Statistics: Most countries do not have a uniform or consistent way of collecting statistics. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that any two countries use the same methodology; consequently data from different countries cannot easily be used for comparative studies.

Ergonomics: While many databases include information on ergonomics no one database exists which brings together information available from world-wide sources. A useful printed abstracting journal  is  Ergonomics  Abstracts which  is  available  in  CD-ROM format.

Research: There is no comprehensive source of information on international research on subjects on occupational safety and health, but there are numerous journals and databases containing the results of research and research programmes. The Institut National de Recherche et de Sécurité pour la Prevention des Accidents du Travail et des Maladies Professionnels (INRS) in France has a database but it does not contain all known occupational safety and health research.

Films and videos: Films and videos help to convey information in an easy and understandable way, but there is no comprehensive database of films and videos, although new titles appear in a neverending stream. CIS has attempted to collect information on the available material in the CISDOC database, as does the UK Safety and Health Executive Information Services in the HSELINE database. Some countries, such as the UK, the US and France, produce annual catalogues which contain new titles published the previous year.

Other considerations: Because of these problems and gaps the information seeker on occupational safety and health will not find a single complete source for answers to questions. There are a number of subject areas and disciplines involved which must be checked to obtain a full picture of any of these topics.

The information user should be aware that there can be a lack of knowledge on a particular topic, or even conflicting or biased opinions, and it is wise to obtain interpretations from specialists before reaching conclusions. Some information can be easily and quickly transferred in today’s world but consideration must be given to the local conditions and also the legal requirements of the country.

Cost of Information

While many large organizations which may be government based are willing to share information at no cost or very low cost, the seeker for information on occupational health and safety must be aware that the cost of good validated information is constantly rising as authoring, production, printing and distribution costs for both printed paper and electronic products continue to rise.

Therefore a cost-effective information service which has not only up-to-date information but also high quality, trained and qualified information professionals with relevant experience is becoming a rarity. Organizations such as the International Labour Organization with its increasing number of member countries are encouraging the setting-up of focal information centres or resources where the information seeker can use and also gain access to other worldwide centres. Improved direct telecommunications should increase the capacity for supporting regional centres.

Because prices change all the time, it did not seem appropriate to include them in the following section. However, the relative costs of documents will always depend on the amount of effort needed to assemble their contents, the number of copies printed and the extent to which the cost of buying a document will be offset by the benefit of applying its contents, although the price of high quality publications may be reduced by public subsidy.

[S. Pantry]

Types of Safety and Health Information and Where to Find Them

The range of users described above defines the range of document types that constitute “occupational safety and health information”. It is helpful to distinguish between those documents that deal exclusively with occupational safety and health issues (“core" publications) and those (“others”) that contain useful information but have a different focus. The number of publications presented in table 1 has been limited by space considerations. The journals listed have been chosen because of the frequency with which they have been cited in other publications or in bibliographic databases. (Inclusion of a source should not be taken as an endorsement by the ILO and is no reflection on a publication or series that is not named.)

Table 1. Examples of core periodicals in occupational health and safety

Language

Name

Subject area

English

American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal

Occupational hygiene

 

American Journal of Industrial Medicine

Occupational health

 

Applied Ergonomics

Ergonomics

 

Applied Industrial Hygiene

Occupational hygiene

 

Occupational and Environmental Medicine (formerly BJIM)

Occupational health

 

Ergonomics

Ergonomics

 

Journal of Hazardous Materials

Chemical safety

 

Safety Science

Safety science

 

Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health

Occupational health and hygiene

French

Travail et sécurité

Safety science

Italian

Medicina del Lavoro

Occupational health

Japanese

Japanese Journal of Industrial Health

Occupational health

Russian

Gigiena truda i professional’nye zabolevanija

Occupational hygiene

Spanish

Salud y Trabajo

Occupational safety and health

 

Traditional paper sources

The most common vehicle for information is paper, in the form of books and periodicals. These periodicals appear regularly and the books have extensive, well-established distribution networks. The primary literature is the set of journals where new observations, discoveries or inventions are reported by the persons responsible. State-of-the-art reviews also appear in primary publications. To be published in a primary publication, an article must be reviewed by a number of experts in the given field, who ensure that it reflects good practice and that its conclusions follow from the facts presented. This process is called peer review.

Typical of the “other” category are among others, the Journal of the International Institute of Noise Control Engineering and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Government agencies in many countries print statistical periodicals that count as primary literature, even though they do not use the peer review process of the research journalists. The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US is one example. Primary serials can be found in the libraries of the relevant institutions ( the JAMA in medical school and hospital libraries, for example).

There are some core mass-circulation magazines that are not peer reviewed, but that do provide primary information in the form of news of recent or upcoming events, in addition to easy-to-read articles on topics of current interest. They often include advertisements for occupational safety and health products and services that are themselves useful information on sources of supply. They may be published by public authorities—for example, Australia Newsletter and Bezopasnost’ truda v promyshlennosti (Russia), by private non-profit safety councils—Australian Safety News, Safety and Health (USA), Promosafe (Belgium), Safety Management (UK), Arbetsmiljö (Sweden), SNOP (Italy) or by private enterprises—Occupational Safety and Health Letter (USA). There are also many publications in other specialities that include useful and interesting information—Chemical Week, Plant Engineer, Fire Prevention.

The difficulty in finding information on one particular topic in the mass of the primary literature has prompted the development of secondary sources. These are guides to the literature or to recent events, such as court cases, whose official write-ups appear elsewhere. They indicate where a given document on a topic is published and usually give a brief summary of its contents. There are also citation indexes, which list the publications that cite a given document; these permit efficient retrieval of relevant publications once one key reference has been identified (unfortunately, there is none devoted exclusively to occupational safety and health). Because they must be up to date, secondary sources use the latest electronic technology to speed their publication.

In order to improve access, particularly to areas with a limited number of computers, some databases are also made available in printed form. The ILO’s Safety and Health at Work—ILO/CIS bulletin is a printed version of CISDOC which is issued six times a year and includes annual and 5-year indexes. Similarly, Excerpta Medica is available as a journal. Some secondary source databases are also available on microfiche, such as RTECS, although it is more common that the paper-based bibliographic information is supported by full-text microfiche. In these cases the database is in two parts: bibliographic references and abstracts on paper (or in electronic format) and the full text on microfiche.

Some other titles of secondary sources are Occupational Health and Industrial Medicine, and CA Selects “Occupational Safety and Health”. Others include the Science Citation Index, Social Science Citation Index, Chemical Abstracts, and BIOSIS. Because of the number of highly trained people involved in their preparation, secondary sources tend to be expensive.

Some newsletters are valuable secondary sources, as they cite important recent publications, laws or court decisions. Examples include: Core publications: OSHA Compliance Advisor (USA); Other: Chemicals in Progress Bulletin (US EPA). Whereas many government publications of this type are free, the privately researched and compiled newsletters tend to be expensive. They are rarely found in libraries; those who need them may find them worth the price of subscription.

A third major type of information source includes textbooks, encyclopaedias and compendia. Whereas reviews in the primary literature describe a domain of knowledge at the time of their writing, tertiary-source reviews recount the evolution of that knowledge and its larger context. Compendia of data bring together values originally measured and reported at different times over many years.

Core publications in this “tertiary category” include Patty’s Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology (Patty 1978), Reactive Chemical Hazards (Bretherick 1979), Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials (Sax 1989), Handbuch der gefährlichen Güter (Hommel 1987), The Diseases of Occupations (Hunter 1978), and this Encyclopaedia. Examples of tertiary publications in the “other” category are the McGraw-Hill one-volume encyclopaedias that cover various areas of science and technology and the Kirk-Othmer Concise Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology (Grayson and Eckroth 1985), 4th edition in 27 volumes (volumes 1 to 5 are published). Readers should not overlook the large quantity of occupational safety- and health-related information to be found in the large general encyclopaedias: Britannica, Universalis, Brockhaus, etc.

Grey literature

There are many books and periodicals that do not have the same highly organized system of publication and distribution as the traditional paper literature, for example reports, data sheets and catalogues; these are referred to as grey literature because they are hard to find. Primary literature in the grey category includes government agency reports (research reports, statistics, accident investigations, etc.), theses and reports from university and commercial research institutes, such as the State Research Institute (VTT) in Finland or the European Chemical Industry Ecology-Toxicology Research Centre (ECETOC) in Belgium. A good source of information on occupational safety and health in developing countries can be found in reports of public and private agencies. Manufacturers’ catalogues can provide a wealth of information. Many exist in more than one language, so that a full set provides a guide to a kind of terminology that is rarely found in dictionaries.

To help the occupational safety and health professional find these irregularly published documents, a number of secondary sources have been created. They include government reports, announcements, index journals and dissertation abstracts. The publishers of reports may occasionally include a catalogue of previously published documents in the reports series itself. The secondary sources are not grey literature: they are published regularly and are easy to find in libraries.

A major type of grey literature is tertiary: Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and criteria documents. (Some data sheets are periodicals; e.g., the Industrial Safety Data File, published monthly by Wilmington Publishers in the UK). Core sources are: national authorities (NIOSH, Arbetsmiljöinstitutet), international programmes such as the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS), manufacturers´ product (MSDSs).

Laws, standards and patents in print

Most countries and regional groupings (for example, the European Union) have as a primary source an official gazette where new laws, derived regulations and patents are printed. Offprints of individual laws, patents, etc., are also issued by government printers. Standards are a more complicated case. Technical standards are frequently developed by officially recognized voluntary associations such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or independent government-chartered institutes (such as the German Deutsche Industrie Normen (DIN)); these bodies cover their operating costs from the sale of copies of their standards. Health and welfare standards (such as limits on working hours or on exposure to certain substances) are more often set by government agencies, so the texts appear in official journals.

The American Association of Law Libraries has begun to publish Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World. Two of the projected three volumes have appeared (The Western Hemisphere, 1989 and Western and Eastern Europe and the European Communities, 1991). The looseleaf volumes are updated annually. This work describes the legal systems of all the Member States of the United Nations and of those dependencies that have their own legal regimes. It identifies the relevant texts under various subject headings (occupational safety and health texts are found under “labour” and industrial sector headings). The editors note numerous other secondary sources, and include a list of foreign legal publications vendors.

The compendium is the normal tool for work with laws and derived regulations—the time lag between publication of a new law in the official gazette and its inclusion in collections is generally very short, and the text may only have meaning in the context of other regulations. With standards, too, it is frequently the case that an individual standard (say, the International Electrochemical Standard (IEC) 335-2-28 on sewing machines) does not state all the applicable requirements, but cites a “parent” standard in the same series that states universal requirements (IEC 335-1, Safety of household and similar electrical appliances). Many countries have consolidated editions of their labour codes in which the central occupational safety and health legislation can be found. Similarly, the ILO and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) publish collections of standards, while the International Register of Potentially Toxic Chemicals (IRPTC) Legal File contains information from thirteen countries.

Information in Electronic Form

The study of occupational safety and health practices and the disciplines that support them grew vigorously from 1950 to 1990. Organizing and indexing the resulting mass of publications was one of the earliest applications of computers.

Databases

As of 1996, only a few full-text databases devoted exclusively to occupational safety and health exist but the number is growing rapidly. Relevant information, however, can be found in others, such as on-line databases of the American Chemical Society Journals Online and the Dow-Jones and other news services. On the other hand, there are many secondary sources in occupational safety and health available online: CISDOC, NIOSHTIC, HSELINE, INRS, CSNB, and parts of HEALSAFE. Other sources include ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center), which is a US service; MEDLINE, which includes abstracts of the world medical literature prepared by the United States National Library of Medicine; NTIS, which indexes US “grey literature”; and SIGLE, which does the same for Europe.

Different types of existing database on occupational safety and health include the following:

  • Bibliographic databases. These are databases of already published documents, where one entry (record) may include such items (fields) as author name, title of document, name of publisher or source, and location of document and its abstract. The records generally include classification indicators which are primary or secondary descriptors or keywords describing the record. Keywords are often taken from a controlled vocabulary, or thesaurus. The document itself is not stored in the database.
  • Full-text databases. Unlike the bibliographic database, which contains only bibliographic information and perhaps an abstract, all relevant text (the full text) of the document is included in this kind of database. There are usually some classifiers and descriptors as well, to help in retrieval. Databases on chemical safety data sheets, each containing one to ten pages, and even entire encyclopaedias and other large documents, may be kept in such a format. Full-text databases correspond to primary and tertiary sources of printed information—they are collections of facts and full sets of data—whereas bibliographic databases are secondary sources which describe or refer to other documents. Like secondary sources in print, they may contain abstracts of the cited information.
  • Factual databases. These contain measures or numerical values, such as threshold limit values of chemical substances.
  • Multimedia databases. These hold pictures, drawings, illustrations, sound and video (or references and links to it) as well as the text of the document (Abeytunga and de Jonge 1992).
  • Mixed databases. Elements of each of the databases described above are included in a mixed database.

 

Any of these databases allows a person with a question to be answered to gain access to the relevant electronic information in two ways: by using telephone lines connected to a computer where the information is stored, or by acquiring a diskette or compact disc containing the information and installing it on the user’s personal computer.

On-line services

Large safety databases that can be accessed through large computers and are always accessible whenever the computers are running are called on-line databases. The organizations that run on-line systems are referred to as their hosts (Takala et al. 1992). Until recently, on-line databases have been the only feasible means for the storage and dissemination of information via magnetic media that allows the use of computers and specially designed search software for the retrieval and downloading of data (Wood, Philipp, and Colley 1988). Practically anybody who has access to a video display (or microcomputer) terminal and telecommunication (data or telephone) line may make use of an on-line database.

With the proliferation of commercially available on-line services since the early 1970s, information has become more easily accessible. It has been estimated that as of 1997 there were well over 6,000 databases available for information retrieval in the world, covering many subjects and totalling over 100 million references. In addition, there are over 3,000 CD-ROM sources, including an ever-increasing number of full-text CD-ROMs.

On-line services, which started with bibliographic databases, rely on huge central mainframe computers which are costly to establish and maintain. As the volume of information and user population grows, the upgrading of the systems alone involves heavy investments.

Open systems, which allow computers to talk to computers anywhere in the world, are increasingly becoming a standard feature of the workplace environment, eliminating the need to host all the necessary safety data on an “in-house” computer.

Telecommunication problems and the limited number of terminals available in developing countries restrict services such as these, mostly to the industrialized world. The level of existing infrastructure; political concerns such as security, secrecy and centralization; and cultural peculiarities may severely restrict the use of on-line services. In addition, the complexity of the access and search systems further limits the number of users. Those who are only occasionally interested in the information will most likely be insufficiently skilled in the necessary techniques, or may perhaps forget the correct procedures entirely. Consequently, it is trained information specialists who tend most often to use these computerized systems. Safety professionals, particularly at the factory level, rarely use them. On-line databases are not much used for safety training purposes because of expensive, by-the-minute, user charges. On-line databases are, however, irreplaceable when the database size is so great that a CD-ROM or even several of them cannot accommodate all the desired data.

Guides to on-line searching

There are a number of useful published guides to on-line searching and databases which the OHS information seeker may wish to consult. A public or university library and information service may supply them or they may be purchased from the publisher.

Large hosts keep hundreds of different databases available 24 hours a day. In running an on-line search, various search strategies combining a number of technical requirements can be carried out. Using special searching techniques such as descriptor or keyword searching, one can range over a large amount of available materials, concentrating on the information most relevant to one’s needs. In addition to search by keyword, freetext searching, in which a search is made for specified words located in almost any field of the database text, can provide further information. Practically no limitations exist as to the size of a database, and several large databases may be put together to form a cluster. A cluster can be used as if it were a single database, so that one search strategy can be applied to all or to selected databases simultaneously. This type  of  All  Safety database  is  currently  being  set  up  by  one of the large hosts, the European Space Agency’s Information Retrieval System (ESA-IRS). This cluster is intended to include many large databases and its size is in the range of gigabytes, or billions of characters. Such clusters are, of course, completely computer-dependent.

Full lists of available on-line databases may be obtained from the major international hosts, namely, ESA-IRS, DIALOG, ORBIT, STN, CCINFOline and Questel. Each host identifies only its own databases; more extensive listings can be found in directories like Gale Research’s Directory of Databases (including CD-ROMs and diskettes), which is available on-line on ORBIT and Questel as well as in print.

Several compact discs offer databases devoted to occupational safety and health: the OSHA CD-ROM from the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the CCINFO discs of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) in English and in French (CCOHS 1996), the UK’s Health and Safety Executive Information Service full text CD-ROMs OSH-CD and OSH-OFFSHORE, published by SilverPlatter, which also publishes many other occupational safety and health related CD-ROMs such as CHEMBANK, EINECS, TOXLINE, and EXCERPTA MEDICA. Springer-Verlag also publish GEFAHRGUT, a CD-ROM in German. The full text of ILO Conventions and Recommendations relating to occupational safety and health can be found on ILOLEX, a CD-ROM published by Kluwer. Secondary information can also be found in the CCINFOdiscs as well as on the OSH-ROM from SilverPlatter. MEDLINE and PESTBANK are two further CD-ROMs of interest.

Many kinds of useful information sources can be obtained in this way on diskette. GLOVES lists properties of the materials used for protective gloves to help users choose the most resistant ones for a given job. Bretherick’s Reactive Chemical Hazards is available on diskette, as is an ILO collection of information on regulated workplace chemicals, exposure limits in 13 countries, risk and safety phrases to be used in labelling and citations of relevant publications.

Other diskette sources include UN-Earth, which supplies data on UN agencies, programmes and areas of competence. There exist, too, secondary guides to data. A core source is FACTS, containing abstracts of industrial accident reports held at the Dutch National Technical Institute (TNO). There are other programmes to assist the practitioner, for example, ACCUSAFE (a safety auditing system from the United States National Safety Council); EBE, an information management system developed by the CIS Regional Technical Co-operation Project for Asia.

Subject Specialists

Solving occupational safety and health problems is not simply a matter of amassing facts, someone has to use the facts to devise solutions. All occupational safety and health specialists have areas of expertise, and when problems lie outside one person’s competence it is time to call for help. Major industries often have dedicated safety and health operations, such as the Center for Chemical Process Safety of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Local poison control centres can help with product identification as well as workplace emergencies. Professional societies (e.g., The American Society for Testing and Materials) may publish registers of recognized experts. Specialist publications (e.g., Fire Prevention) include useful advertisements. In many countries, national agencies offer consultancy services.

Every library in the world is an information centre where the facts relevant to occupational safety and health can be found. However, not every possible question can be answered in any single library. In general, information specialists or reference librarians will know the specialized sources in their regions and can advise patrons appropriately. There are also printed guides, such as Gale Research Inc.’s Directory of Special Libraries and Information Centres (16th ed., 1993). The country-level institutions that serve as CIS National and Collaborating Centres form a network that can route requests for information to the most appropriate source of expertise.

Workplace Safety Information

Because these “publications”—posters, signs, brochures, etc.—are images rather than words or numbers, they have not been amenable to electronic storage and retrieval in the past. At the time of writing, that is changing, but the OSH specialist seeking appropriate leaflets to hand out at a half-day course in fire safety should probably turn to the local fire department before turning on a computer. Of the core OSH databases, only CISDOC systematically includes references to training materials, and the CISDOC collection is indicative rather than exhaustive.

As libraries do not normally stock catalogues, the interested individual must build up a personal collection by contacting suppliers. These include commercial firms (e.g., Lab Safety Supply International), national or government-chartered private agencies (insurers, unions). An initial set of addresses can be compiled from the source information in CISDOC.

[E. Clevenstine]

Implications for Information Access

Search strategies

Searching for information can be very frustrating. The following advice is offered, especially to those who do not enjoy the benefits of a full-fledged information service or library onsite.

How to obtain a loan or photocopy of an article, book, or report

One may make use of a local public, college, polytechnic, university or hospital library. Many provide material for reference only, but have photocopiers onsite so that items may be reproduced (with attention to copyright conditions). First one should check the indexes or catalogues of the library: if the item sought is not in stock, the information specialist or librarian will indicate another library which may be able to help. The safety specialist in one’s trade union, professional association or employing institution may be approached for assistance. Any request should be framed as helpfully as possible, with attention to the information specialist’s or librarian’s need for the following sorts of information:

  • title and author(s) of article, book or report
  • publisher
  • year of publication
  • edition
  • International Standard Book Number (ISBN)—this is a unique identifier given to every document published
  • title of periodical or journal
  • date of periodical or journal and volume, part number and pages required
  • name of database.

 

It can take up to three weeks or more if an item has to be borrowed from another source, but it may be obtained more quickly if one is prepared to pay for a “premium” service.

How to search for information on a particular subject.

Again one should make use of local services and contacts. Information specialists or librarians will assist the information seeker in using the various traditional indexes and abstracts. Further information given in this chapter will be of use in any search, and one might check various bibliographies, yearbooks, guides, other encyclopaedias, dictionaries and books and write to relevant organizations for further information. Using established networks pays dividends. A local information specialist or local library should be able to carry out an on-line or CD-ROM search on one or more of the computerized databases listed in this chapter.

Search techniques

The information sought should be specified clearly; for example, “injuries” is too broad a term for seeking information on a subject like “low back pain problems among nurses”. Particular aspects of a subject should be defined accurately, with mention of whatever keywords, related terms, synonyms, chemical name(s) or chemical abstracts registry numbers, and so on, that may be available to the inquirer. The name of an author who is a known expert in an area of concern may be checked to find further, more recent publications under his or her name. One should decide how much information is needed—a few references or an exhaustive search. Information published in other languages should not be overlooked; the British Library Document Supply Centre (BLDSC) collects translations on all subjects. NIOSH in the United States, CCOHS in Canada and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the United Kingdom have extensive translation programmes. The HSE deposits more than 700 translations with BLDSC each year.

It is useful to keep a standard search form (see table 2), at one’s disposal to ensure that each search is carried out systematically and consistently.

 


Table 2. Standard search form

 

SEARCH FOR

Keywords

______________________________

Synonyms

______________________________

Chemical registry number

______________________________

Known author(s)

______________________________

How far back in time to search?

______________________________

How many references required?

______________________________

Where to search (e.g., indexes, libraries)

______________________________

Journals/periodicals checked

______________________________

Books/reports checked

______________________________

Databases/CD-ROMs checked

______________________________

Terms used in search

______________________________

Number of references found

______________________________

Date

______________________________

 


 

The flow-chart in figure 1 illustrates a typical route to locating information.

Figure 1. Simple routes to information

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Technology advancement

Technology continues to advance rapidly, with such new developments as the worldwide delivery of high-bandwidth information at high-speed transmission speeds becoming more available at ever-lowering costs. The use of electronic mail is also making access to information easier, so that seeking guidance and advice from specialists around the world is becoming much simpler. The take-up and use of facsimile transmission of data have made a valuable contribution, again at low cost. The potential of these new informational technologies is enormous. Their facilities for accessing information at ever lower cost can increasingly help to reduce existing disparities in the availability of information between countries and between regions in a country. As the information delivery networks expand and further innovative applications are created using these beneficial technologies, more and more people will be reached, so that the role of information as a means of accomplishing desired changes in the workplace can be realized.

Cost benefit of technology

New technologies are also a boon to developing countries. It is well known that knowledge and information are vital to achieving improved quality of life and quality of the environment. Information technologies present one of the most cost-effective means for developing countries to keep pace with progress in various fields of activity. Electronic technologies may substantially enhance the ability of developing countries to achieve the benefits of improved information dissemination in a cost-effective manner.

Mainframes and on-line systems, while by no means obsolete, are costly for many institutions. Costs such as data production and telecommunications charges are high and often prohibitive. Today’s technologies, such as CD-ROM and Internet, are the best way for these countries to be informed and to come to terms with current knowledge in many areas, especially the very critical ones relating to health. The advantages that they offer for presenting large collections of information in forms that speak directly to the users and quickly and conveniently meet their diverse needs are undeniable.

Costs of an entire workstation—personal computer, CD-ROM reader and their applications—are falling rapidly. The affordability of PC-based information and the local skills in information technologies, provide developing countries with an opportunity to conduct activities on vital information at the same level as the developed world.

[S. Pantry and P.K. Abeytunga]

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