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How to undertake a systematic review in an occupational setting
  1. P J Nicholson
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr P J Nicholson
 Occupational Health, Procter & Gamble, Whitehall Lane, Egham, Surrey TW20 9NW, UK; nicholson.pj{at}

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Although there are many narrative reviews of many occupational health topics, there are few high-quality systematic reviews, and no single and concise source of advice on how to undertake such reviews in the occupational setting.

A “review” is any attempt to synthesise the results and conclusions of two or more publications on a given topic. A “systematic review” aims to identify and appraise all the literature on a topic, ranking the credibility accorded to evidence depending on the likelihood of bias influencing data collection and interpretation. A meta-analysis incorporates a specific statistical strategy to amass the results of several studies investigating a particular effect—for example, of exposure or intervention into a single estimate.

Systematic reviews provide the evidence-based findings required for writing scientifically supportable practice guidelines that help to ensure that occupational health professionals and others practise in such a way as to ensure that workers have the best health outcomes. They also resolve uncertainty regarding the potential benefits or harm of workplace and clinical interventions, where there is conflicting research or opinion. Clearly written lay summaries of the main findings of systematic reviews provide employers with a sound evidence base for robust management policy and decisions, and promote good understanding of risks and safe practice among workers, with the intent of preventing ill health caused by work.

The systematic review process has clearly defined and interdependent phases.


Identify a topic where no systematic review has been or is being undertaken. To avoid duplication, search key databases for published or ongoing systematic reviews and contact appropriate experts. Assess the need for a review based on the practical significance to occupational health practitioners and employers and, most importantly, the potential to benefit a significant number of workers. Define clearly the target users of the review-derived guidelines.1


Systematic evidence reviews frequently …

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  • Competing interests: None declared.