Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Life is a Gift - Wrap it in Safety

Given the recent disaster in West Virginia, it seemed appropriate to visit the website of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, where I was generally impressed by the audience awareness of their online discourse. Even their kids' materials -- about not playing in abandoned mines -- seemed relevant and age-appropriate. Since I am interested in traditional information design as well, I watched the film clip for their Mine mapping campaign with appreciation for their foresight. As Edward Tufte has argued, clear information design and the availability of efficient message channels often saves lives.

In the negative column, the MNSHA monthly safety slogan contest lost them some public rhetoric points. See the title of this blog entry for the winner of last month's prize. And the fact that MSHA's idea of Interactive Training is a series of PowerPoint slides shows little understanding of how virtual simulations and other "serious games" can be used to model life-and-death situations.

When I first looked at the MSHA site, I was prepared for my usual rant about how it is often unreasonably difficult for workers and consumers to get information about health and safety information from government websites. Then I looked the next day, and presto!, there was an easy-to-use violations information page right on the webpage specifically about the Sago mine accident.

(And speaking of more mundane health and safety violations, the Los Angeles County Environmental Health Restaurant Rating system is now online in a much more easily searchable form, so local greasy spoons beware!)

In related oversight news, it will be interesting to see if corporations will also be held accountable, now that shareholders can get inside information from bloggers about company culture that might be otherwise invisible to outsiders. Would they avoid investing in the next Enron or Anker West Virginia Mining Company? A corporate blog wiki was described in a recent New York Times article on "A Blog that Blogs Corporate Blogs"

At least the website of the Anker company's parent corporation, the International Coal Group, was unostentatiously low-tech and soberly designed. It looks like ICG realizes that ambitious and polished public relations efforts would do little for their share price at the moment.

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