Expanding and Improving Occupational Safety and Health Content in Wikipedia. It Matters.

Posted on by Max Lum, Thais C. Morata, James Hare, and John P. Sadowski
Image by NIOSH

NIOSH is one of the first US federal agencies to collaborate with the Wikimedia organizations and it is doing so by actively contributing data and the latest research to help improve the health of the population. NIOSH’s effort involves examining mechanisms to help make sure that the occupational safety and health information that reaches Wikipedia’s millions of readers is complete, up-to-date, and free of errors.

The January 2017 NIOSH eNews article Reaching Our Audience Where They Are: Our Work with Wikipedia describes the motivation behind NIOSH’s efforts to expand and improve occupational safety and health content in Wikipedia. Wikipedia has become an important source of information for a large part of the global population. It increasingly appears in search engine rankings on a variety of important occupational safety and health topics. Today, Wikipedia offers more than 5.5 million articles in English. Globally, it serves 400 million unique visitors, accounting for 7.8 billion page views per month. Wikipedia has 37 million articles in 291 languages and is one of the seven most-visited websites in the world. Globally, one out of every two hundred visits to the internet is to Wikipedia.

Approximately 30,000 editors make five or more edits on Wikipedia each month. In addition, community members monitor the site to enforce Wikipedia’s editorial policies by removing vandalism and factual errors from pages, identifying and tagging neutrality issues, and ensuring that claims in articles properly supported. The references in Wikipedia articles contain links to sources where serious information seekers can find more detailed information. The Economist, in reporting on the misuse of social media, stated that Wikipedia is a model for online information delivery: “it lives off donations and its host of volunteers keep it reasonably clean, honest and reliable,” [The Economist. “Do Social Media Threaten Democracy,” November 3, 2017, p.11].

A bit more history on the NIOSH effort: In 2015, NIOSH, along with the National Archives and Records Administration and Wikimedia DC, organized a meeting to seek input on the future of US federal agency work with Wikimedia The meeting included participants from the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Cochrane Collaboration, the Pan-American Health Organization, American University, Consumer Reports, Wikimedia DC, Wikiproject Medicine, Wikimedia Medical Translation Task Force and Wikidata, among others. We learned of challenges that exist and different types of possible collaborative work. For example, The National Archives was the first US federal agency to hire a Wikipedian-in-residence. The National Library of Medicine trains and encourages their staff to write for Wikipedia, with a focus on definitions of diseases. Other agencies donate images to Wiki Commons that can be used free of charge (with attributions). Agencies that do not publish in the public domain make their publications available to Wikipedia editors. Clearly, there are many ways to collaborate with Wikipedia.

The objective to expand and improve occupational safety and health content in Wikipedia is ambitious. In this and subsequent blogs we will describe some of the approaches NIOSH has used so far. Since 2012, NIOSH has contracted Wikipedians-in-Residence. What do they do? A main activity is to directly create and improve Wikipedia articles on occupational safety and health topics, as described in the May 19 2015 NIOSH Science Blog Collaboration with Wikipedia. One example is the page on Health_and_safety_hazards_of_nanomaterials. Wikipedians-in-Residence also:

  • Coordinate with NIOSH staff to identify priorities and contribute to strategic planning of the activities geared to improving occupational safety and health content into Wikimedia.
  • Contribute data, public domain training materials and videos to Wikidata and Wikimedia Commons. We are leading the charge in adding rich audiovisual content that goes above and beyond just reading plain text. It is easy to see the results from our efforts, as our videos have been viewed on Wikipedia over 231,000 times since we started posting them in February 2016. In fact, several of the individual videos such as the Arc Flash awareness or N95 Respirator use during Pregnancy have been watched more on Wikipedia than on the NIOSH YouTube channel.
  • Provide training and support, so researchers and interns can edit themselves or create new pages such as the Occupational exposure banding page.
  • Created and manage WikiProject_Occupational_Safety_and_Health, an organization of Wikipedians established to identify goals and track activities relating to occupational safety and health content. See table with links to pages tagged as covering occupational safety and health topics and their quality and importance ratings. Anyone can join, add to the task list, contribute towards answering the identified requests, or just follow the activities and discussions.
  • Connect Wikipedians with NIOSH resources and organize events on specific topics. On October 19, 2017, NIOSH hosted an edit-a-thon in honor of National Nanotechnology Day. Wikipedians from across the Midwest gathered to work with NIOSH scientists to expand and improve Wikipedia articles about the emerging workplace safety and health issues of nanotechnology, advanced materials, and additive manufacturing. By the end of the day, Wikipedians had expanded the articles on dustiness, the health and safety section of 3D printing, and created a draft on engineering controls for nanomaterials. An upcoming event is planned for the WikiConference North America in Columbus, OH in October 18-21 2018.

And this is not all. Since 2016, NIOSH and partner university graduate and training programs have adopted the platform developed by the Wiki Education Foundation so that students are assigned to add content specific to the subject matter of the course they are taking to Wikipedia. NIOSH researchers and Wikipedians-in-Residence offer an extra layer of support to articles related to occupational safety and health. Actually, we need a whole new blog to tell that part of the story, coming up soon.

These collaborations with Wikipedia have been successful and motivate us to continue our work and welcome new partners and ideas. Would you like to be part of this effort? Not sure where to start? Please send us a comment or question to learn more about it or to provide us with your feedback.

We would like to thank Jeff Zhou and Emily Temple-Wood, former Wikipedians-in-Residence at NIOSH for their efforts in the initial phases of this effort.


Max Lum, Thais C. Morata, James Hare, and John P. Sadowski

Max Lum is a Senior Advisor for eCommunication and Research Translation in the NIOSH Office of the Director.

Thais C. Morata, is a research audiologist with the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology and the Coordinator of the NORA Manufacturing Sector Council.

James Hare is a former NIOSH Wikipedian-in-Residence.

John P. Sadowski is a  current NIOSH Wikipedian-in-Residence.


See also:

NIOSH Blog: Collaboration with Wikipedia

NIOSH eNews: Reaching Our Audience Where They Are: Our Work with Wikipedia

Teach with Wikipedia


Azzam A,et al. Why Medical Schools Should Embrace Wikipedia: Final-Year Medical Student Contributions to Wikipedia Articles for Academic Credit at One School. Acad Med. 2017 Feb;92(2):194-200. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001381.

Heilman et al. Wikipedia: A Key Tool for Global Public Health Promotion. J Med Internet Res 2011;13(1):e14. DOI: 10.2196/jmir.1589

Heilman JM, West AG. Wikipedia and medicine: quantifying readership, editors, and the significance of natural language. J Med Internet Res. 2015 Mar 4;17(3):e62. doi: 10.2196/jmir.4069.

Posted on by Max Lum, Thais C. Morata, James Hare, and John P. Sadowski

4 comments on “Expanding and Improving Occupational Safety and Health Content in Wikipedia. It Matters.”

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    This is fascinating work. I am trying to do something similar in the area of “Sustainable Development Goals”. I started off with topics in the area of sanitation (see WikiProject Sanitation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Sanitation).
    Anyhow, good luck with your work and keep posting about how you do this and how you get people funded to work on this, e.g. Wikimedians in residence. I am looking for inspiration and ideas…


    Thank you for your kind comment about our Wikipedia effort. I reviewed your sanitation page with great interest-strong implications for global reach to important audiences!

    This is impressive work. I’m trying to accomplish something almost identical in place of the “possible progress objective”.
    Anyway, good luck with your work. I’m searching for inspiration and thoughts…

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Page last reviewed: July 23, 2018
Page last updated: July 23, 2018