Safety decisions often based on incomplete information

Monday, 17 November, 2008

A recent doctoral thesis entitled ‘The information-seeking behaviours of professionals and information sources in the field of injury prevention and safety promotion’ by Dr David Lawrence, postgraduate student at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, reveals that professionals may overlook important information when they search for research findings about injury prevention and safety promotion. The typical search uses no more than one or two online databases and often only familiar search terms are used thereby limiting the search even further.

“Our findings are compelling because we were able to identify problems both with how professionals look for published research about safety and with the way that the online literature databases is organised,” says Dr Lawrence. “This knowledge should be helpful in teaching people to be better searchers and for making improvements to the design of databases.”

The researchers conducted six studies of the information-seeking behaviours of professionals who work in the fields of injury prevention and safety promotion. They used subscribers to a weekly safety bulletin as a pool for a survey. Respondents included attorneys, engineers, legislative and government staff members, physicians, psychologists, workplace safety specialists, building codes and standards professionals and academic researchers from 173 countries. All terms used to search the database during the years 2000–2005 were registered. During the six years that the web logs were examined, the site averaged 2500 searches each week.

The researchers found that when injury prevention professionals search for information, they typically search no more than one or two online databases and only use familiar search terms, often excluding professional terms commonly used by professionals in other fields. Because at least 30 distinct professional disciplines contribute to what is known about injury prevention and safety promotion topics, this means that the searchers are self-limiting their ability to find new information. Further, professional journals exist to serve researchers in each of these disciplines but online literature databases tend to focus on the perceived needs of researchers in a single specialty and exclude journals from other disciplines.

“A large proportion of injury prevention and safety promotion professionals may hold a biased view of the full nature of injury problems and the options for prevention,” says Dr Lawrence. “When they search a database they find a satisfyingly large list of articles and conclude that they must have received comprehensive information, unintentionally missing information from other perspectives.”

Dr Lawrence works at the Department of Public Health Sciences, Division of International Health, and is also affiliated with the Centre for Injury Prevention Policy & Practice, San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health.


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