Objectives To evaluate different approaches for including time trends in quantitative exposures to total particulate matter (TPM) in an aluminium smelter for use in epidemiologic evaluation of incident heart disease, we compared the use of regression modelling to discrete modelling of changes in the workplace environment.
Method We used an industrial hygiene database containing results for sampling conducted over 30 years and information on workplace environment (e.g. personal protective equipment policy, ventilation modifications, changes to materials or work organisation). The effects of these changes were tested with an analysis of variance model using log-transformed TPM concentrations. We compared the outcome of this approach to the use of a regression model for TPM concentrations over time.
Results Time trends in 57 jobs in an aluminium smelter were evaluated by using 1123 TPM samples collected from 1984–2012. There was an overall decline in median TPM concentrations (mg/m3) at the smelter (3.7% per year). The trend was not observed in the majority individual jobs. The decreasing trend was concentrated in 14% of the jobs. The majority of jobs (61%) had no change over the time period, 19% had no consistent pattern of change, and 5% increased in TPM concentrations.
Conclusions Applying a global trend to worker exposures would result in misclassification error in epidemiologic evaluations. When possible, process changes should be used to define changes in worker exposures rather than using a facility- or industry-wide time trend. Future work will explore regression modelling as a way to explain any remaining time trends in TPM.
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