OBJECTIVES: To study the nature and extent of evaluation research in occupational health services (OHSs). METHODS: Literature review of evaluation research in OHSs. On the basis of a conceptual model of OHS evaluation, empirical studies are categorised into aspects of input, process, output, outcome, and OHS core activities. RESULTS: Many methods to evaluate OHSs or OHS activities exist, depending on the objective and object of evaluation. The amount of empirical studies on evaluation of OHSs or OHS activities that met the non-restrictive inclusion criteria, was remarkably limited. Most of the 52 studies were more descriptive than evaluative. The methodological quality of most studies was not high. A differentiated picture of the evidence of effectiveness of OHSs arises. Occupational health consultations and occupational rehabilitation are hardly studied despite much time spent on the consultation by occupational physicians in most countries. The lack of effectiveness and efficiency of the pre-employment examination should lead to its abandonment as a means of selection of personnel by OHSs. Periodic health monitoring or surveillance, and education on occupational health hazards can be carried out with reasonable process quality. Identification and evaluation of occupational health hazards by a workplace survey can be done with a high output quality, which, however, does not guarantee a favourable outcome. CONCLUSIONS: Although rigorous study designs are not always applicable or feasible in daily practice, much more effort should be directed at the scientific evaluation of OHSs and OHS instruments. To develop evidence-based occupational health care the quality of evaluation studies should be improved. In particular, process and outcome of consultation and rehabilitation activities of occupational physicians need to be studied more.
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