Objectives To assess ergonomic exposures in a historical cohort study on musculoskeletal disorders among baggage handlers using production statistics from the airport and the involved handling company.
In historical cohort studies information on exposures is typically based on self-reports or assumptions of previous exposures. This may lead to misclassification of cumulative exposures. We analysed production data from the participating companies to improve the exposure assessments of the individual workers.
Methods Data from 1990–2012 regarding the number of flight operations was provided by Copenhagen Airport. The handling company provided data from 1998–2012 on total baggage weight, number of operations and number of baggage handlers on duty. Additionally, information existed back to 2002 on type of aircrafts, percentage of wide-bodied aircrafts (where some of the baggage was loaded in containers) and weight of manually handled baggage. It was possible to receive information about the dimension of the baggage compartments, which is decisive for the postures adopted in the hold (standing, stooping, squatting, kneeling and sitting). Information also existed on the time of introduction of technical lifting gear.
Results Although the number of passengers almost doubled during the past 20 years, the number of flight operations decreased as the number of passengers per flight increased. However, the weight of manually handled luggage out on the ramp decreased, probably because the number of wide-bodied aircrafts increased. Seasonal and daily variations existed. Because of the detailed production statistics it was possible to create a job exposure matrix by job tasks and calendar periods. This information will be combined with individual information on job tasks back in time.
Conclusion Although production statistics cannot provide information on individual factors such as the worker’s lifting technique and his use of lifting gear, production statistics may be a valuable tool in exposure assessments in epidemiological studies.
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