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The proportion of intervention studies in occupational epidemiology has been growing rapidly in recent years. This is a positive trend, which makes it necessary to discuss a number of theoretical, methodological, and practical issues. The aim of this paper is to summarise the specific features of occupational intervention research, to suggest solutions to some of the special problems, and to propose ways of developing worksite intervention studies in the future.
Occupational intervention studies are in this paper defined as “studies in which the effects of planned activities at the worksites with the aim of improving the working conditions and/or the health of the workers are being evaluated with research methods”. The goals of these activities are usually improved health and wellbeing of the workers, reduced absence or turnover, or increased motivation and job satisfaction. In some cases these goals are combined with other objectives such as increased product quality, increased productivity, or increased customer satisfaction.
The present article will focus on interventions with a behavioural, organisational, or psychosocial element. This leaves out purely engineering interventions where, for example, one chemical is substituted with another or one machine with another without changes in employee behaviour. The scope of the article is still very broad since it includes such diverse fields as ergonomics, accidents, psychosocial factors, health promotion, physical and chemical factors, and secondary prevention of occupational diseases and injuries.
WHY INTERVENTION STUDIES?
Why is occupational intervention research so important? The simple answer is that we want to know whether or not interventions at the worksites have the desired effect. This is by no means a matter of course. Some interventions have no effects while others have negative effects in spite of the good intentions of everyone involved.
Going one step further, we can identify at least four good reasons for doing intervention research: