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OSHA to whistleblowers: bankers' hours only
February 21, 2004 2:32 PM   Subscribe

OSHA to whistleblowers: bankers' hours only - Why would part of OSHA's Inspection Database restrict public access to 8 am to 6 pm est, M-F? Confined Space, a workplace health & safety and labor blog, reports on this odd phenomena here and here. OSHA claims that this is to "manage the costs of providing public access to this data." Huh? Can anyone tell me how that would work? I can't ask OSHA since they apparently disable their feedback mechanism on weekends too.
posted by madamjujujive (30 comments total)

 
c:/>tracert www.osha.gov

Tracing route to www.osha.gov [155.103.6.14]
over a maximum of 30 hops:

1 15 ms 16 ms <10 ms 10.187.112.1
2 16 ms 15 ms <10 ms 12.244.86.1
3 47 ms 15 ms 47 ms 12.118.112.9
4 16 ms 16 ms 31 ms tbr2-p012401.dtrmi.ip.att.net [12.123.139.57]
5 31 ms 16 ms 15 ms tbr2-cl1.cgcil.ip.att.net [12.122.10.134]
6 16 ms 31 ms 31 ms ggr1-p370.cgcil.ip.att.net [12.123.5.149]
7 15 ms 16 ms 47 ms 0.so-0-0-0.BR6.CHI2.ALTER.NET [204.255.168.57]
8 16 ms 62 ms 16 ms 0.so-5-3-0.XL2.CHI2.ALTER.NET [152.63.64.58]
9 31 ms 16 ms 31 ms 0.so-0-0-0.TL2.CHI2.ALTER.NET [152.63.68.89]
10 78 ms 31 ms 63 ms 0.so-3-0-0.TL2.DCA6.ALTER.NET [152.63.19.170]
11 94 ms 47 ms 47 ms 0.so-7-0-0.XL2.DCA5.ALTER.NET [152.63.42.189]
12 62 ms 47 ms 47 ms POS7-0.GW1.DCA5.ALTER.NET [152.63.39.65]
13 47 ms 47 ms 63 ms osha-gw.customer.alter.net [157.130.34.154]
14 * * * Request timed out.
15 * * * Request timed out.
16 * * * Request timed out.


etc, etc, etc.
posted by quonsar at 2:44 PM on February 21, 2004


"I sent an e-mail to the webmaster asking why would a web-based service need to close at night. They got back to me today (after checking with supervisors) and they told that this was a cost-cutting measure. When I questioned how it saved money, it seems that they pay an outside contractor to host the webserver, and they get paid based on the number of times the website gets accessed."

alternet charges for hosting by the page access? sounds like an ignorant lie to me.
posted by quonsar at 2:51 PM on February 21, 2004


Well, they no doubt charge per byte, which is pretty much a function of the number pageviews (and the size of the page in question ofcourse). Not sure how this is supposed to reduce pageviews though. Do they think people who go to their site in the evenings just do so for entertainment and won't come back later, as opposed to the serious accesses during the day?
posted by fvw at 4:41 PM on February 21, 2004


Our Federal government doesn't have their own dedicated server farms? What is this, 1994???
posted by billsaysthis at 4:41 PM on February 21, 2004


since more people use it during the day, they should block it from 9-5 instead
posted by destro at 4:42 PM on February 21, 2004


Who cares? Access it Monday morning. What's so urgent that it can't wait? This implication that there's some sort of nefarious plot is laughable.
posted by pardonyou? at 5:48 PM on February 21, 2004


Jesus christ people. Don't you see that it's all due to the 9/11. Terrorists. Mad man. Protecting the citizens of the united states. Terror. blah, blah, blah.

Jesus.
posted by damnitkage at 5:50 PM on February 21, 2004


pardonyou, there are a few urgent matters a family member or a co-worker might want to investigate that they might not be able to investigate during work hours. If a construction worker or a manufacturing employee wanted to look up any safety violations by their employer, I guess they might have to take the day off to do so, huh? Not all workers have jobs that allow them computer access in the daytime.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:11 PM on February 21, 2004


This implication that there's some sort of nefarious plot is laughable.

just keep repeating that as loud and often as possible. that way, when they finally come for you, none of us will miss you a bit. :-)
posted by quonsar at 6:15 PM on February 21, 2004


billsaysthis: Are you kidding me? Even the NSA, DoD and Mil outsources a lot of their public Web server hosting. Try looking at their DNS servers sometime. :)
posted by bkdelong at 7:06 PM on February 21, 2004


attempting to determine the location of an NSA. DoD or .mil server may make you a terror suspect.
posted by MrLint at 7:16 PM on February 21, 2004


This implication that there's some sort of nefarious plot is laughable.

Yeah ... it really kind of is. The message itself seems to explain it - the system was designed as an internal tool, not a public resource. Apparently, someone in the government was foolish enough to decide to open it up, in a limited manner, to the public - not realizing, of course, that instead of getting thanked, they'd be accused of a dark plot to keep people from accessing information at the exact second they want it.

It is relatively easy, these days, to put a web presentation layer on top of a middle-tier search engine, to search a big back-end database. But depending upon how the original system was built, a whole host of additional issues might enter into play.

FAR more likely than a deep plot to limit access (which on its face is ludicrous, since if they wanted to limit access they wouldn't have needed to have web-enabled the bloody system at all) would be the possibility that the original system just was not designed very well, and needs coddling by sysadmins. (The fact that the hours of access are limited to the working hours of OSHA - i.e., the hours when IT support for the system would be staffed - hardly seems coincidental).

I've run the construction of very large systems for financial firms - building them from scratch to be web enabled and open to the public. Likewise, I've also been involved in projects that tried to take internal apps (many that just grew organically, a feature added here and there for staff members) and web-enable them for the public. Quite often this is much more difficult to do, and involves a menu full of problems that just don't exist if something is built correctly from the beginning - including resource, bandwidth, maintenance, and security issues.

I can think of at least a dozen reasons - from purely technical to purely financial - why this service might be available to the public from 9 to 5. It is kind of bizarre that the first conclusion MeFi would reach is that it is a government plot of some sort ...

Good grief.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:26 PM on February 21, 2004


... the first conclusion MeFi would reach

Midas, this is not Mefi speaking, I am just madamjujujive - are you talking to me? ;-)

What would be the dozens of reasons why a government site site would have limited access? I am curious. Security? Maybe we should shut down the DOD then or the White House, surely they are more tempting targets. Budget? Then perhaps one or two of the many, many faith-based pages that have been proliferating could be shut down nights and weekends instead - we managed fine without them for years.

Perhaps I would be less suspicious if this administration didn't seem so intent on taking the teeth out of public watchdog agencies like OSHA and the EPA.

And it's not some private company that built this site for their own use and is kind enough to share it - it is our government.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:17 PM on February 21, 2004


Reading the huge, scary disclaimer at the bottom gives a better idea as to what is going on.

They are trying to limit access to the information which is probably used for a million and one lawsuits even though they say it's not reliable ( i.e not verified yet).

Of course they're under no obligation to provide this information to the public. Why they don't have a password system when it's only "for the use of members of the public who wish to track OSHA interventions at particular work sites or to perform statistical analyses of OSHA enforcement activity"
...and choose to just limit it to working hours does seem suspicious.
posted by destro at 8:19 PM on February 21, 2004


If a construction worker or a manufacturing employee wanted to look up any safety violations by their employer, I guess they might have to take the day off to do so, huh?

Is that really the reason you posted this? Just to point out that someone, somewhere might find this restriction inconvenient? If so, I gotta tell you that your post actually reads like an implication that OSHA is purposely doing this to somehow suppress information (although it's difficult to see how that argument would work, since nobody denies the information is available 50 hours a week).

Believe it or not, prior to the advent of the internet, it was nearly impossible to obtain any information from the federal government during non-business hours.

On preview: Perhaps I would be less suspicious if this administration didn't seem so intent on taking the teeth out of public watchdog agencies like OSHA

I regularly deal with OSHA inspections and citations and have for several years. I haven't seen any material changes in either the regulations or the agency's enforcement from the Clinton to the Bush administrations. And I'm sorry, but "this administration" doesn't give a rat's ass about whether one particular database belonging to just one of hundreds of federal agencies is accessible 24/7 or 10/5.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:26 PM on February 21, 2004


just keep repeating that as loud and often as possible. that way, when they finally come for you, none of us will miss you a bit. :-)

Oh yes, this is surely another sign of our impending slide into fascism. "First OSHA restricted the on-line Inspection Database to 8 am to 6 pm, Monday through Friday, yet I said nothing..."
posted by pardonyou? at 8:43 PM on February 21, 2004


it was a joke, pardonyou? remember those?
posted by quonsar at 8:49 PM on February 21, 2004


see the little smiley? this is an important cue.
posted by quonsar at 8:50 PM on February 21, 2004


MidasMulligan or pardonyou, can you honestly say you find nothing peculiar about a website shutting down at 6 pm and closing for weekends? And shutting off the ability to send feedback or questions? Can you point to other examples of government or public sites that are restricted by the hours they are available? Or any sites that engage in such a practice? Is this odd practice occurring elsewhere and I am unaware of it? By bandwidth perhaps, we all know Geocities does that. ;-)

Let's assume you are both correct that I am simply another wacky paranoid liberal because of course this administration is too busy to pillage websites, what an idea!

Let us instead just deal with the issue of a website that is open for bankers hours. You can say you don't find this practice bizarre? And you can pass the straight face test while saying it? Is this practice something you think we can expect to occur more frequently, this business of online *open for business* hours?

OSHA has had a change in policy that makes it needlessly difficult for the working public to obtain data about workplace safety violations - data that was previously available. And my question is this: for what good reason?
posted by madamjujujive at 10:08 PM on February 21, 2004


MidasMulligan or pardonyou, can you honestly say you find nothing peculiar about a website shutting down at 6 pm and closing for weekends?

OK, I'm not Midas or pardonyou, but...

I agree with them partly. This isn't a nefarious plot. However, this *is* interesting. Generally, part of the point of the Web is that it's the best 24/7 automated medium out there. Having any web service go to scheduled availability is bizarre, much like a convenience store that operates only office hours.
posted by weston at 10:26 PM on February 21, 2004


More like a totally automated convenience store that they pull the plug on from 6pm to 8am to, uh, save electricity costs or something.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:36 PM on February 21, 2004


Believe it or not, prior to the advent of the internet, it was nearly impossible to obtain any information from the federal government during non-business hours.

Yes, and prior to the invention of the steam engine, it took weeks to cross the country. What's your point? That less access is better?
posted by rushmc at 10:55 PM on February 21, 2004


My guess about the hours is that those are the hours they can monitor what's being looked at real-time. Because they have the staff in the office then.
posted by hurkle at 11:17 PM on February 21, 2004


And what difference would that make?
posted by deadcowdan at 4:03 AM on February 22, 2004


"...can you honestly say you find nothing peculiar about a website shutting down at 6 pm and closing for weekends?"

I'm neither of the people to whom this was addressed, but I can think of a terrific one, and it's not applicable to the OSHA site, but many though not by any means all database-intensive applications running on Microsoft IIS and SQL Server -- especially those which rely heavily on the notoriously shaky ASP script engine or contain badly coded COM objects, which are legion, or which aren't carefully written around the bugs in ADO or the SQL Server Client ODBC driver -- have a way of dying horribly if not tended to regularly. It might very well be better to carefully shut the application down than let it run in an unknown state during off hours and on weekends, if it's of that sort. There are jillions of these shakily-coded internal applications on intranets the world 'round, and it sounds like this was originally an internal application.

OSHA, however, is running Oracle Web on Solaris 9 and the application seems to be FastCGI or Apache::Registry, so that's not the excuse. But it is an excuse, and a reasonable assumption given the inexplicable prevalence of Windows throughout the federal government.

On the other hand, the question of nefarious political influence is never fully inappropriate when you're talking about a federal agency that's known to be taking blows from the administration and at odds with its political goals.
posted by majick at 9:52 AM on February 22, 2004


It might very well be better to carefully shut the application down than let it run in an unknown state during off hours and on weekends

I have to ask, what's the worst that could happen if they didn't shut it down on evenings and weekends? The site might be unavailable? With the policy, the site is guaranteed unavailable during those hours.

I'm not saying it's a conspiracy (I even thought about it with my tinfoil cap on, which prevents the aliens and CIA from stealing my thoughts) but you have to admit it's pretty odd.
posted by alex_reno at 12:41 PM on February 22, 2004


I have to ask, what's the worst that could happen if they didn't shut it down on evenings and weekends? The site might be unavailable? With the policy, the site is guaranteed unavailable during those hours.

1972: We had to destroy the village to save it.
1984: Ketchup is a vegetable.
2004: We had to take the website down in order to keep it up.

Personally, I think we're improving, at least, taking these concepts alone.
posted by namespan at 3:13 PM on February 22, 2004


Now, y'all know that I'm about as far from a government apologist as one can get...but, I used to work at a supercomputer site. At this site, much research and processing was done. Never were new batch or big projects allowed to be started during hours when we didn't have people there that could fix the system, restructure a query, or otherwise keep the system running at full capacity. Queries that were already running were left running...but when staff wasn't available, then neither was the ability to start new queries.

I doubt seriously that this is a nefarious plot...and really, I'm willing to whip out the tin foil beanie with little provocation...and this doesn't even make me look in the pantry for the roll of foil.
posted by dejah420 at 11:04 PM on February 22, 2004


Perhaps my view is a bit skewed - with 5500 hundred workplace deaths a year and more than 6 million injuries, many at serial offender employers, I am not happy to have our only corporate watchdog sleeping on the job. The people who truly need the site the most now have the least access. Guess they'll just have to hire lawyers.

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments and responses to my questions though ;-)
posted by madamjujujive at 5:33 PM on February 23, 2004


Does Financial Times read MeFi? Perhaps, because they reported on this story a few days after it was posted here, and apparently used the phrase "bankers' hours" as in the title of this post. Unfortunately, I can't link to the story itself which now seems to be gone (and I think FT requires paid registration) but here is a story about it that appeared in the labor health and safety blog Confined Space where I first heard of the OSHA issue.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:47 PM on March 13, 2004


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