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The Use of Mental Models in Chemical Risk Protection: Developing a Generic Workplace Methodology


*Address correspondence to Patrick Cox, Centre for Environmental Risk, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK;


We adopted a comparative approach to evaluate and extend a generic methodology to analyze the different sets of beliefs held about chemical hazards in the workplace. Our study mapped existing knowledge structures about the risks associated with the use of perchloroethylene and rosin-based solder flux in differing workplaces. “Influence diagrams” were used to represent beliefs held by chemical experts; “user models” were developed from data elicited from open-ended interviews with the workplace users of the chemicals. The juxtaposition of expert and user understandings of chemical risks enabled us to identify knowledge gaps and misunderstandings and to reinforce appropriate sets of safety beliefs and behavior relevant to chemical risk communications. By designing safety information to be more relevant to the workplace context of users, we believe that employers and employees may gain improved knowledge about chemical hazards in the workplace, such that better chemical risk management, self-protection, and informed decision making develop over time.