Background: In order to support occupational health practitioners, researchers, and experts (clinical librarians, guideline developers) who search the scientific literature in PubMed (Medline), we developed and evaluated an easy-to-use and effective search strategy. Methods: We tested different combinations of search terms, in answering four case vignettes calculating sensitivity and precision in retrieving literature from a gold standard. The use of the Clinical Queries filter from PubMed was evaluated. Based on the outcomes, we developed guidelines for a professional search strategy, using a flow chart. Results: For the occupational health practitioner, we found a sensitivity of at least 65% with a precision of 20%, when terms for occupation and type of industry were combined with terms for disease. For the occupational health expert, a high sensitivity of more than 90% was found adding terms for risk factors to the strategy. Combining the search terms with the sensitive Clinical Queries etiology filter in PubMed, enhanced the precision. Using the specific Clinical Queries etiology filter in PubMed results in a substantial loss of relevant articles. Conclusions: To search for studies on the occupational origin of diseases in Medline, we propose to start with the proper name for the occupational disease. If this does not exist, use a specific term for the occupation and type of industry in combination with terms for disease. To improve the sensitivity of the search, a search term for the specific risk factor should be added. If there is no relevant occupational title available, it is worth trying the general search terms occupational diseases or occupational risk. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.