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Evaluating the Efficacy of a Mental Models Approach for Improving Occupational Chemical Risk Protection

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*Address correspondence to Jörg Niewöhner, Max-Delbrueck-Centrum for Molecular Medicine Bioethics and Science Communication, Robert-Rossle-Str. 10, Berlin, 13125, Germany; niewoehner@mdc-berlin.de.

Abstract

Chemical risk protection in the workplace relies partly on informing workers about possible risks using material safety data sheets (MSDS). This article reports on phase 2 of a project (phase 1 reported in Cox et al.), which employed a mental models approach to improve on data sheets as communicative interventions for perchloroethylene in dry cleaning and rosin-based solder flux in the electronics industry within small businesses in the United Kingdom (small enterprises (SEs) < 25 employees in the workplace). It focuses on the efficacy of a multimethod evaluation strategy to assess (1) the capacity of a mental models approach to yield contextually relevant data for intervention design and (2) the effectiveness of the strategy itself in validating the mental models data. The evaluation was conducted using postal questionnaires and semi-structured verbal protocols to provide responses to the alternative intervention content and to prioritize risk messages. User discussion groups were then employed, particularly as a means of establishing whether contextual information could be obtained that would differ qualitatively from the kind elicited through individual (semi) structured methods. We conclude that the mental models approach as part of an iterative process including systematic multimethod evaluation is successful in supporting the design of relevant communications to the users of chemicals. The overall viability of communicative interventions in the context of health and safety in small businesses remains in question. Future research might aim to develop a more holistic approach to interventions in complex occupational contexts.

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