From Safety & Health magazine - October, 1999 issue

At Your Fingertips: Safety Software Saves Time by Robert J. Derocher

Robert Czeropski has spent more than a quarter of a century in the environmental business, spending many hours sifting his way through piles of Material Safety Data Sheets to verify chemical contents.

But Czeropski's task became much simpler- and less timeconsuming-last year, and all it took was a compact disc and his computer.

"With a couple of clicks, I can review the MSDSs and print them out for our records," says Czeropski, environmental director of Marisol Inc., a hazardous waste recycler in Bound Brook, N.J. "I find this particular service almost invaluable."

Czeropski uses MSDS Collection, a software program produced by Genium Publishing Corp., Schenectady, N.Y. It is one of a growing number of programs developed for virtually every aspect of safety and health on the job.

Many safety and health professionals have happily embraced the various software programs that have hit the market over the past few years. In a race to combine technology and convenience, safety software manufacturers are busily updating existing programs and adding new ones to meet the demand.

The Internet, for example, is just beginning to play a larger role in safety and health software, giving professionals quicker and better opportunities to get plugged in to the Software they need for a safer workplace.

Here is a sampling of some safety and health software developers and their designs for the future.

Up-to-Date MSDS

While Genium has been publishing MSDS information for the last 15 years, it first released a CDROM version in 1995. Along with chemical profiles, hazard data also are provided, says Paul Hans, marketing director for Genium. Currently, about 1,100 MSDSs and 4,5OO chemical profiles are on one CD, but Genium is planning to quadruple the number of profiles.

For Czeropski, a veteran of the chemical recycling business-and neophyte in the computer world -the software has been easy to use with very little computer knowledge needed to operate it. Instead of leafing through sometimes outdated hard copies, Czeropski can quickly and easily find MSDSs that he uses to verify the chemical makeups of hazardous material that manufacturers provide for recycling. Information either can be scanned or keystroked into the program and, as in most software applications, backup files are kept. Czeropski still keeps hard copies around, as well.

While Genium regularly provides updates, the company is moving toward developing updates and other information that can be accessed on the company's Web site (www.genium.com), Hans says. With more than 1,000 users on board, MSDS-Pro (Aurora Data Systems, Anchorage, Ala.) also is winning praise from users, says Kelly Priestley, company president (www.msdspro.com). The 3M Co., BP/Amoco, Coca-Cola and Texaco are among the largest clients, in addition to many smaller companies.

"It's so much easier to use, especially for people in the field," says Linda Gardner, process safety coordinator for Williams Alaska Petroleum in North Pole, Ala. Workers in Williams' various laboratories, distribution networks (road and rail) and environmental tracking all use the system.

About 20 minutes of hands-on training is all that is needed to become familiar with the system, according to Gardner. One difficulty Williams Alaska Petroleum encountered was they manually entered data in the system, instead of scanning it into software applications.

In addition to avoiding cumbersome paper files, another advantage of MSDS-Pro is it allows users to type in synonyms or near-spellings to find MSDSs, Gardner says, instead of requiring the correct spelling. (MSDS Collection also has this feature.) The system also has allowed Williams to have better inventory control because it allows materials to be tracked more easily than the manual methods used previously, Gardner says.

Lockout/Tagout Goes High-Tech

At Weyerhaeuser Canada's pulp and paper mill in Dryden, Ontario, there were two great fears when lockout/tagout software was introduced about two years ago, says Tom Goldrup, safety specialist for the company: a fear of change and a fear of computers. Both were quickly erased with a system developed by Montreal-based Group ID (www.groupid.com).

"It's employee-driven. That's what really drove the program," says Goldrup. "It's employees who sold it to other employees." Each of the 1,000 or so employees at Weyerhaeuser's Dryden Mill has personalized locks, along with photo IDs, scanned into the computer system. The installation of the lockout/tagout software was part of an overall push to update the mill with technology, according to Goldrup. The ease of using Group ID helped ease that transition, he says. Bulky binders with lockout/tagout procedures at work stations have now been replaced by computer terminals.

One drawback of the system is multiple users on the system. The more users on the server at one time, the slower the system works, he says. But Goldrup adds that Group ID's customer support- key for any safety and health software user-has been quick and helpful.

Simplified Recordkeeping

Not only do users like some of the safety and health software applications on the market, but OSHA does, as well. Sloppy recordkeeping is one of the most frequently cited OSHA violations, and Safety Compliance Assistant (www.cch.com), a program developed by CCH Inc., of Riverwoods, Ill., has OSHA in mind, says Jonathan Nicolas, an analyst for the company.

The CCH software is a twopronged effort to meet OSHA needs. First, a chronological log of reportable injuries and how and when they occurred provides a vital records trail. Figures, charts and appendices from OSHA standards also are available, as are sample response letters to OSHA actions.

Second, a series of questions helps companies heavily involved in regulation by providing the basis for safety and health compliance to OSHA regulations. "It allows you to audit your safety practices to see if you're in compliance with {OSHA} safety standards," according to Nicolas.

The National Safety Council's Accusafe Pro program (www.nsc.org) also provides computer-based recordkeeping. In addition to storing records, Accusafe Pro also tracks the costs associated with injuries and illnesses, identifies trends on the job and determines whether an accident or injury is OSHA recordable. The program, like CCH's software, also generates OSHA 200-approved logs.

"It's a good management tool," says Anthony Cooper, safety and risk coordinator for the OroLoma Sanitary District, San Lorenzo, Calif. "It's a lifesaver. It cuts out my paperwork tremendously."

Cooper, who has been using the system for nearly two years, uses it to generate quarterly reports, which are then used to track what sorts of incidents have been happening on the job and what needs to be done to address problems. The program helped Cooper and the sanitary district win state awards last year for Plant of the Year and for safety.

Interactive Training

Computer-based training is another valuable safety and health tool, particularly for companies with distant work forces. That is why companies like BNA Communications of Rockville, Md. (www.bna.com/bnac), offer 24 different educational CD-ROMs, ranging from confined spaces to the most recent forklift regulations, says Tony Cornish, promotion manager for the firm. The program describes the regulations and provides for testing of employees to ensure competency.

"It's very handy for posing questions and presenting different scenarios," says Tom Allen, manager of environmental health programs for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va. Allen uses the CD-ROMs to train operations and physical plant staffon various safety and environmental issues.

For example, Allen says, one program goes over the steps of what should be done in the event of an oil spill, stopping along the way to give viewers different options. The program then describes what would happen-and how effective the cleanup would be- depending upon what option was chosen.

Videocassettes and digital video on the CD enhance the training. Cornish sees training moving to the Internet, as well as to company intranets.

For Marisol's Czeropski, safety and health information tracking and training has come a long way from triple-carbon forms, bulging file cabinets and endless hours searching for and generating information.

"It's relatively simple and ... for an 'old man' like me, it's great," he says;."I can do other things now."-


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