ILO Encyclopaedia Going Global

The world's experts are invited to join the Ten Thousand Expert network to prepare the Fifth Edition for its Web debut in December 2009.

NIOSH is in place as a sponsor, its former director Dr. John Howard is chairing the Steering Committee, and the wheels are in motion to create the Fifth Edition of the "ILO Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety." It will be the first 21st Century edition of a reference dating to the 1930s and the first update since the 1990s' four-volume Fourth Edition, which cost nearly $7 million and took five years to produce.

OSH specialists around the world are invited to join the Ten Thousand Expert network to produce this new edition, which will be completed faster and less expensively because it will be distributed exclusively online and on CD-ROM. If enough sponsors step forward, it will be provided free of charge, just as the Fourth Edition is currently available free -- although the inital plan was to sell it to recoup high fixed costs for printing, storage, etc.

"This notion of charging for the Encyclopaedia became very problematic very quickly: Poor or developing nations who need the information most are the least likely to be able to pay for it. From a practical standpoint, therefore, it is completely impractical to place an economic barrier between the information and the end-users. Any economic obstacle to obtaining the access to the wealth of information in the ILO Encyclopaedia is inappropriate because occupational health is a human right," said Ilise L. Feitshans ([email protected]), JD, ScM, coordinator of the Fifth Edition for SafeWork  at International Labour Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

"We in the ILO are recruiting the Ten Thousand Expert network for the 5th Edition of the ILO Encyclopaedia. We welcome all points of view, stakeholders from the business community, labor organizations, non-profit organizations, the media, and of course the governments who are the Members of the ILO in the UN. For the first time, the ILO Encyclopaedia will be designed for the web. Our web launch is planned for December 2009," Feitshans added in an interview conducted by e-mail. "Recall that Dr. Alice Hamilton, the 'pioneer' of occupational health in the USA in the 20th Century (and the first woman to teach at Harvard Medical School), wrote for the first edition of the ILO Encyclopaedia in 1930. This is quite a mantra for us to maintain as we adjust the goals and the methods of information delivery for the 21st Century.

"We consider the end-users from all over the world as the constituents of the new edition. And we want anyone who is an expert in OSH to have the opportunity to have their say in this project," she explained. "We are in the process of constructing several conduits for making that happen, including the plan for a writers' conference that will assist the people who are drafting articles, Web portals for submissions, blogs for chapter clusters where editors and writers can discuss their drafts together meaningfully, and many innovative approaches to creating a vibrant and useful document that will be shared by people worldwide who never thought their lives would be touched by occupational health concerns -- not just the traditional academic circles in the OSH community. This promises to be as exciting as you would expect from such a multi-national co-operative project, defining the field of occupational health for the 21st Century!"

This edition will be in English first, but SafeWork hopes to offer it in all three ILO official languages: English, Spanish, and French.

Recruiting Writers, Editors, Reviewers
SafeWork is organizing the writers' conference for this fall -- either late October or early December. It says chapter editors and authors will be selected from the best experts in the world in their respective specialties, which requires Fifth Edition staffers to go on the road to recruit writers, editors, and peer reviewers in 2008 and 2009. The goal is worldwide participation by at least 10,000 expert authors, chapter editors, and peer reviewers.

The proposal for the Fifth Edition -- which served as the basis for presentations at a professional society in Lausanne, Switzerland; an ASSE chapter in Bahrain; and ILO Labor Training Facilities in Turin, Italy -- says a proactive effort will be made to infuse the Fifth Edition "with the new knowledge gleaned from young professionals who want to make a name for themselves in the future, and whose work may be shaped in part by the experience of participating in the TEN THOUSAND EXPERT network. Their insights and recent training in new disciplines will bring a fresh perspective to our field.

"This cross fertilization of ancient wisdom and new technology will serve a dual purpose: to rejuvenate our field while also bringing occupational safety and health principles to specialists in non-traditional settings such as development, protenomics, molecular biology, nanotechnology, business schools, law and judicial systems, the media and human resources management."

A new section in the Fifth Edition will be biographies of major contributors to the field of occupational safety and health, starting with Pliny the Elder, Ramazzini, and Hamilton. The new edition will have a full index, bibliographic references linked to the CISDOC database, and hyperlinks to relevant sites within and outside ILO. It will feature natural-language search terms, such as "research to practice" and "prevention through design."

Experts from more than 50 countries participated in creating the Fourth Edition. "The fifth edition of the Encyclopaedia will provide users with information on occupational safety and health in a highly accessible format. We hope that it will help to reduce the unacceptable global toll of 2.2 million deaths and 430 million accidents and diseases each year," said SafeWork Director Dr. Sameera Al-Tuwaijri. He praised Howard's agreement to participate, saying, "SafeWork and the Encyclopaedia will benefit from the contributions of one of the most sophisticated, multi-disciplinary minds of our time. He is a world leader in occupational health policy and program development."

Priority Chapters
Encyclopaedia chapters to be revised include, but are not limited to, these:

1. OSH management systems


3. Emergency planning

4. Animal to human transmissibility of occupational diseases/Avian Flu

5. AIDS in the workplace

6. Integration with wellness and on-site employee health-prevention programs

6a. Obesity prevention, reduced health care costs, and reduced downtime

6b. Genetic understanding of occupational illness

6c. Lifestyle issues from outside the workplace

6d. Drug and alcohol dependency issues

6e. Smoking and secondhand smoke (including employer liability and cessation programs)

6f. Dependent family and relationships with children, ex-family, older parents, etc.

7. Nanotechnology

8. Psychosocial dimensions of occupational health programs

9. Driving and motor vehicle accidents

9a. Increased understanding of economic costs

9b. Liability issues

10. Multi-jurisdictional questions: transborder licensing commercial drivers, insurance, tort

11. Enhanced training programs

How to Participate
"The Fifth Edition of the 'ILO Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety' is unprecedented in many ways: Changes in technology have shaped information retrieval, created job descriptions with graduate degrees in fields that never existed before and have inescapably -- perhaps permanently-- reshaped the organization of work," Al-Tuwaijri said in a speech in May 2008. "One of the fundamental failings of OSH as a field throughout the 20th Century was the inability to get the message across that our work saves lives. Not some remote lives in the coal mines of West Virginia or the gold mines of South Africa; our work is for everyone."

To participate, watch the video at, and then e-mail your name, contact information, biographical sketch, and a description (500 words or fewer) of the topic in which you are interested to: [email protected]. Please note whether you wish to serve as Article Author, Chapter Editor, or Peer Reviewer.

Chapter editors will be required to prepare a "chapter introduction" outline for the first time. This introduction will be a defense of the information in the chapter, answering why these articles are together in this chapter and why readers or end users should care about them.

"We hope that this approach will promote consistency, even though we know that absolutely no single set of outlines can be 'one size fits all,' " Feitshans said. "We hope to strike a balance. If a set of users are likely to ask for information that does not exist yet due to scientific uncertainty, they need to know there are no straight line answers. There should be a place in the outline that will correspond to the natural language search that will produce the result, 'no information known at this time answers the question whether . . . ' or at least, 'it is controversial and not well understood whether . . . .' At the same time, we recognize that not every question will apply to every outline, and some topics will have special questions unique to the risks or hazards involved.

"For the first time also, we will proactively encourage the appearance of discussion from different disciplines in each article and chapter outline. For example, law and regulation and future directions of policy will be included in each outline," she added. "With hyperlinks, we can really give our readers some fabulous resources that could not be placed in footnotes or a list of references in the century before."

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