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Safety experts meet in Cyberspace

BSE, the Titanic's final moments and kidnapped estate agent Suzy Lamplugh -- what have they got in common? All are controversial human safety issues that will be fuelling debate in Cyberspace over the next fortnight.
Written by Chiyo Robertson, Contributor

Safety '98 is the world's first free, online conference about health and safety. Running from 2 to 13 November, it aims to educate and stimulate discussion about all aspects of safety including basic domestic stuff, the dangers of children trespassing on railways and the increasingly important issue of work-related safety. The latter ranges from asbestos poisoning to the more extreme dangers of rape and kidnapping.

The broad spectrum of this topic is reflected by the line-up of cyber-speakers: MP Michael Meacher, general secretary of the TUC John Monks, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) chief Jenny Bacon and CBI head Adair Turner are some of the experts that will be online at Safety '98.

Diana Lamplugh, whose estate agent daughter Suzy was kidnapped while showing bogus house-hunter 'Mr Kipper' around, has turned to the Net to spread the word about the problem of safety at work. "During a normal working day in an ordinary job, my daughter disappeared. She was a bright, worldly-wise girl. I wanted to prevent this ever happening again. But when we looked into the case, I became concerned that there was a huge problem with safety at work," said Lamplugh.

Most conferences force delegates to travel despite the environmental pollution from planes and cars and the dangers associated with actually getting there. The Internet, according to MP Michael Meacher, who launched Safety '98, is the logical alternative. "An international Web conference involves a far greater numbers and saves people from jetting in or driving. We want the greatest audience possible -- this is the only way," said Meacher. He hopes the Internet will stimulate the public to ask questions about issues such as BSE and genetically modified foods. "Everyone should be interested in food safety after the searing trauma of BSE. We want to share the lessons learned with others," said Meacher.

Mark Smith, a consultant at the Institute of Chemical Engineers (ICE), which organised the event, said the idea for a virtual gathering came while he was emailing a friend. "I used to travel all over the world as a speaker. One day, I was e-mailing a colleague and it suddenly occurred to me that five thousand people did not need to travel. The Net would [travel for us]," said Smith. Safety '98 can be found at www.safety.org.

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