Many workers have questions about occupational safety and health (OSH). It is unknown whether workers are able to find correct, evidence-based answers to OSH questions when they use common information sources, such as websites, or whether they would benefit from using an easily accessible, free-of-charge online network of OSH experts providing advice.
To assess the rate of correct, evidence-based answers to OSH questions in a group of workers who used an online network of OSH experts (intervention group) compared with a group of workers who used common information sources (control group).
In a quasi-experimental study, workers in the intervention and control groups were randomly offered 2 questions from a pool of 16 standardized OSH questions. Both questions were sent by mail to all participants, who had 3 weeks to answer them. The intervention group was instructed to use only the online network ArboAntwoord, a network of about 80 OSH experts, to solve the questions. The control group was instructed that they could use all information sources available to them. To assess answer correctness as the main study outcome, 16 standardized correct model answers were constructed with the help of reviewers who performed literature searches. Subsequently, the answers provided by all participants in the intervention (n = 94 answers) and control groups (n = 124 answers) were blinded and compared with the correct model answers on the degree of correctness.
Of the 94 answers given by participants in the intervention group, 58 were correct (62%), compared with 24 of the 124 answers (19%) in the control group, who mainly used informational websites found via Google. The difference between the 2 groups was significant (rate difference = 43%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 30%–54%). Additional analysis showed that the rate of correct main conclusions of the answers was 85 of 94 answers (90%) in the intervention group and 75 of 124 answers (61%) in the control group (rate difference = 29%, 95% CI 19%–40%). Remarkably, we could not identify differences between workers who provided correct answers and workers who did not on how they experienced the credibility, completeness, and applicability of the information found (P > .05).
Workers are often unable to find correct answers to OSH questions when using common information sources, generally informational websites. Because workers frequently misjudge the quality of the information they find, other strategies are required to assist workers in finding correct answers. Expert advice provided through an online expert network can be effective for this purpose. As many people experience difficulties in finding correct answers to their health questions, expert networks may be an attractive new source of information for health fields in general.