Article Text

Download PDFPDF
A search strategy for occupational health intervention studies
  1. J Verbeek1,4,
  2. J Salmi1,
  3. I Pasternack1,2,
  4. M Jauhiainen3,
  5. I Laamanen3,
  6. F Schaafsma4,
  7. C Hulshof4,
  8. F van Dijk4
  1. 1Cochrane Occupational Health Field, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Department of Research and Development of Occupational Health Services, Kuopio, Finland
  2. 2FinOHTA, STAKES, Helsinki, Finland
  3. 3Information Centre, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland
  4. 4Coronel Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health, AMC, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J Verbeek
 Cochrane Occupational Health Field, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Department of Research and Development of Occupational Health Services, PO Box 93, 70701 Kuopio, Finland;


Background: As a result of low numbers and diversity in study type, occupational health intervention studies are not easy to locate in electronic literature databases.

Aim: To develop a search strategy that facilitates finding occupational health intervention studies in Medline, both for researchers and practitioners.

Methods: A gold standard of articles was created by going through two whole volumes of 19 biomedical journals, both occupational health specialty and non-occupational health journals. Criteria for occupational health intervention studies were: evaluating an intervention with an occupational health outcome and a study design with a control group. Each journal was searched independently by two of the authors. Search terms were developed by asking specialists and counting word frequencies in gold standard articles.

Results: Out of 11 022 articles published we found 149 occupational health intervention studies. The most sensitive single terms were work*[tw] (sensitivity 71%, specificity 88%) and effect*[tw] (sensitivity 75%, specificity 63%). The most sensitive string was (effect*[tw] OR control*[tw] OR evaluation*[tw] OR program*[tw]) AND (work*[tw] OR occupation*[tw] OR prevention*[tw] OR protect*[tw]) (sensitivity 89%, specificity 78%). The most specific single terms were “occupational health”[tw] (sensitivity 22%, specificity 98%) and effectiveness[tw] (sensitivity 22%, specificity 98%). The most specific string was (program[tw] OR “prevention and control”[sh]) AND (occupational[tw] OR worker*[tw]) (sensitivity 47%, specificity 98%).

Conclusion: No single search terms are available that can locate occupational health intervention studies sufficiently. The authors’ search strings have acceptable sensitivity and specificity to be used by researchers and practitioners respectively. Redefinition and elaboration of keywords in Medline could greatly facilitate the location of occupational health intervention studies.

  • RCT, randomised controlled trial
  • workers’ health
  • effectiveness
  • information retrieval
  • evidence-based medicine
  • Medline

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Conflict of interest: none.