Open Access Open Badges Research article

An online network tool for quality information to answer questions about occupational safety and health: usability and applicability

Martijn DF Rhebergen1*, Carel TJ Hulshof1, Annet F Lenderink2 and Frank JH van Dijk1

Author affiliations

1 Academic Medical Centre Amsterdam/University of Amsterdam, Department: Coronel Institute of Occupational Health, P.O. Box: 22700, Meibergdreef 9, 1100 DE Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2 Academic Medical Centre Amsterdam/University of Amsterdam, Department: Dutch Centre for Occupational Diseases, P.O. Box: 22660, Tafelbergweg 51, 1100 DD, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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Citation and License

BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2010, 10:63  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-10-63

Published: 22 October 2010



Common information facilities do not always provide the quality information needed to answer questions on health or health-related issues, such as Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) matters. Barriers may be the accessibility, quantity and readability of information. Online Question & Answer (Q&A) network tools, which link questioners directly to experts can overcome some of these barriers. When designing and testing online tools, assessing the usability and applicability is essential. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to assess the usability and applicability of a new online Q&A network tool for answers on OSH questions.


We applied a cross-sectional usability test design. Eight occupational health experts and twelve potential questioners from the working population (workers) were purposively selected to include a variety of computer- and internet-experiences. During the test, participants were first observed while executing eight tasks that entailed important features of the tool. In addition, they were interviewed. Through task observations and interviews we assessed applicability, usability (effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction) and facilitators and barriers in use.


Most features were usable, though several could be improved. Most tasks were executed effectively. Some tasks, for example searching stored questions in categories, were not executed efficiently and participants were less satisfied with the corresponding features. Participants' recommendations led to improvements. The tool was found mostly applicable for additional information, to observe new OSH trends and to improve contact between OSH experts and workers. Hosting and support by a trustworthy professional organization, effective implementation campaigns, timely answering and anonymity were seen as important use requirements.


This network tool is a promising new strategy for offering company workers high quality information to answer OSH questions. Q&A network tools can be an addition to existing information facilities in the field of OSH, but also to other healthcare fields struggling with how to answer questions from people in practice with high quality information. In the near future, we will focus on the use of the tool and its effects on information and knowledge dissemination.