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A graphical tool to evaluate temporal coverage of occupational history by exposure measurements
  1. Jelle Vlaanderen1,
  2. Wouter Fransman2,
  3. Brian Miller3,
  4. Igor Burstyn4,
  5. Dick Heederik1,
  6. Fintan Hurley3,
  7. Roel Vermeulen1,
  8. Hans Kromhout1
  1. 1Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  2. 2Business Unit Quality & Safety, TNO Quality of Life, Zeist, The Netherlands
  3. 3Institute for Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh, UK
  4. 4Community and Occupational Medicine Program, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, The University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Jelle Vlaanderen, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (IRAS), Division Environmental Epidemiology, Jenalaan 18d, PO Box 80178, 3508 TD, Utrecht, The Netherlands;{at}


Introduction In occupational epidemiology, differences in the temporal coverage of the exposure history by available exposure measurement data may affect the uncertainty of exposure estimates. In the reporting of results of studies, greater attention should be paid to the extent to which exposure assessments require extrapolation outside the timeframe for which exposure measurements are available. We propose a simple graphical method that can be used to visualise the temporal coverage of exposure history with exposure measurements and the extent of temporal extrapolation needed.

Methods We construct a graph that displays the accumulated work history years for which exposure had to be assessed in each calendar year. Years for which exposure measurements were available are shaded. The proportion of work history years covered by exposure measurements and the proportion of work history years accrued before the first measurements are summarised. When available, the actual number of measurements available in each calendar year is shown.

Results We demonstrate the application of the graphical tool in three nested case–control studies that reported on leukaemia in relation to low-level benzene exposures in the petroleum industry. Considerable differences in temporal coverage between the studies were illustrated, which may have resulted in differences in the reliability of the retrospective exposure estimates derived for these studies.

Conclusion We introduce a graphical tool for visualising the temporal coverage by available exposure measurement data in epidemiological studies and encourage others to use similar graphs to derive and share better qualitative insights into the uncertainty in exposure assessment.

  • Epidemiology
  • retrospective exposure assessment
  • benzene

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  • Funding The comparative review of the three nested case–control studies was funded by CONCAWE (Boulevard du Souverain 165, B-1160, Brussels, Belgium). Development of the methods described here was partly supported by ECNIS (European Cancer Risk, Nutrition and Individual Susceptibility), a Network of Excellence operating within the European Union 6th Framework Program, Priority 5: ‘Food Quality and Safety’ (Contract No 513943). Igor Burstyn was supported by the Population Health Investigator salary award from the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.