The sun sets behind a pump jack in Texas. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is involved in researching safety for oil rig workers, who carry out risky jobs in dangerous environments. Photo by NIOSH, public domain
The sun sets behind a pump jack in Texas. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is involved in researching safety for oil rig workers, who carry out risky jobs in dangerous environments. Photo by NIOSH, public domain

For the past 4 months, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)  has been doing something new and exciting for a government agency: they have been employing a Wikipedian-in-Residence. This collaboration with Wikipedia makes NIOSH only the second federal agency, and the first federal scientific agency, to engage with the encyclopedia project in this fashion; it is a collaboration that has the potential to spark many more. As part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NIOSH  is considered a premier research agency, and enjoys a particularly low conflict of interest in this area, due to its status as a research-only agency that does not engage in regulatory enforcement. Having the support of such a high-caliber research group is a boon for increasing Wikipedia’s accuracy and reliability.

As Wikipedian-in-Residence, my main focus is to improve Wikimedia content directly, using the vast resources available at NIOSH. NIOSH has a wide body of research and experts available to it, and the organization regularly produces review-quality content of the type that is ideal for improving underdeveloped areas of Wikipedia. Some of the NIOSH resources I’ve been able to use during my time here include: Cochrane reviews conducted by NIOSH researchers, a variety of review papers, and epidemiological research and chemical data, just to name a few. Right now, we are in the process of updating the English Wikipedia with United States-based chemical safety data, including recommended and permissible exposure limits — but don’t worry: we will soon be expanding our collaboration to use data from OSH agencies around the world! We also intend to incorporate this information into Wikidata, once its software becomes capable of handling chemical data.

Images from NIOSH’s collection, covering a wide variety of occupational safety and health topics, are already available at here on Wikimedia Commons. More images are being uploaded regularly, so keep an eye out for files that you can use in your language’s Wikipedia!

In addition to expanding current English Wikipedia articles, I have also been creating new articles in my time with NIOSH. My first two creations, covering the newly-discovered occupational lung diseases indium lung and flock worker’s lung, appeared on the “Did You Know” section of the project’s Main Page. NIOSH was deeply involved in discovering and characterizing both of these diseases, and their resources were instrumental to help me write encyclopedia articles about them.

Resources like NIOSH’s make a real difference in our ability to cover these topics; although articles on occupational safety and health are quite heavily viewed by the English Wikipedia’s readers, there are nevertheless no articles that have earned a Featured Article (FA) or Good Article (GA) status in this topic area, as far as I know. When a recent paper specifically mentioned Wikipedia’s article on occupational lung disease as needing serious work, I was able to use my access to high-quality NIOSH resources to fill that need. Though still very much a work in progress (collaborators welcome!), it is now a fairly comprehensive overview of occupational lung diseases and pathogenic agents.

Dr. John Howard, director of NIOSH, said “The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is pleased to partner with Wikipedia to extend our reach in communicating our research findings and recommendations to the vast audience of Wiki readers.  It is incumbent upon us, as the agency designated by law to lead national research for preventing work-related injury, illness, and death, to share our rich information with as many people as we can so they can make informed opinions about their workplace health and safety.  Wikipedia  provides a trusted, popular resource to do so in today’s national, indeed global, virtual community.”

NIOSH is committed to sharing excellent occupational health information with the world and has a mission very much aligned with Wikipedia. I am excited to be participating in a collaboration that lets me work simultaneously on two things I love: building Wikipedia’s articles and improving the public’s access to reliable medical information!

Emily Temple-Wood
Wikipedian in Residence

Note: This story was also posted here on the NIOSH blog.