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Task based exposure assessment in ergonomic epidemiology: a study of upper arm elevation in the jobs of machinists, car mechanics, and house painters
  1. S W Svendsen1,
  2. S E Mathiassen2,
  3. J P Bonde1
  1. 1Department of Occupational Medicine, University Hospital of Aarhus, Denmark
  2. 2Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University Hospital of Lund, Sweden; Centre for Musculoskeletal Research, University of Gävle, Umeå, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr S W Svendsen
 Department of Occupational Medicine, University Hospital of Aarhus, Noerrebrogade 44, Building 02C, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark;


Aims: To explore the precision of task based estimates of upper arm elevation in three occupational groups, compared to direct measurements of job exposure.

Methods: Male machinists (n = 26), car mechanics (n = 23), and house painters (n = 23) were studied. Whole day recordings of upper arm elevation were obtained for four consecutive working days, and associated task information was collected in diaries. For each individual, task based estimates of job exposure were calculated by weighting task exposures from a collective database by task proportions according to the diaries. These estimates were validated against directly measured job exposures using linear regression. The performance of the task based approach was expressed through the gain in precision of occupational group mean exposures that could be obtained by adding subjects with task based estimates to a group of subjects with measured job exposures in a “validation” design.

Results: In all three occupations, tasks differed in mean exposure, and task proportions varied between individuals. Task based estimation proved inefficient, with squared correlation coefficients only occasionally exceeding 0.2 for the relation between task based and measured job exposures. Consequently, it was not possible to substantially improve the precision of an estimated group mean by including subjects whose job exposures were based on task information.

Conclusions: Task based estimates of mechanical job exposure can be very imprecise, and only marginally better than estimates based on occupation. It is recommended that investigators in ergonomic epidemiology consider the prospects of task based exposure assessment carefully before placing resources at obtaining task information. Strategies disregarding tasks may be preferable in many cases.

  • TEM, task exposure matrix
  • CNC, computer operated numerically controlled
  • stress
  • mechanical
  • occupational medicine
  • shoulder

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