Objective To evaluate the validity of widely used questionnaire items on work schedule using objective registry data as reference.
Method A cohort study of hospital employees who responded to a self-administered questionnaire on work schedule in 2008, 2012 and 2014 and were linked to individual-level pay-roll-based records on work shifts. For predictive validity, leisure-time fatigue was assessed.
Results According to the survey data in 2014 (n=8896), 55% of the day workers had at least 1 year of earlier shift work experience. 8% of the night shift workers changed to day work during the follow-up. Using pay-roll data as reference, questions on ‘shift work with night shifts’ and ‘permanent night work’ showed high sensitivity (96% and 90%) and specificity (92% and 97%). Self-reported ‘regular day work’ showed moderate sensitivity (73%), but high specificity (99%) and ‘shift work without night shifts’ showed low sensitivity (62%) and moderate specificity (87%). In multivariate logistic regression analysis, the age-adjusted, sex-adjusted and baseline fatigue-adjusted association between ‘shift work without night shifts’ and leisure-time fatigue was lower for self-reported compared with objective assessment (1.30, 95% CI 0.94 to 1.82, n=1707 vs 1.89, 95% CI 1.06 to 3.39, n=1627). In contrast, shift work with night shifts, compared with permanent day work, was similarly associated with fatigue in the two assessments (2.04, 95% CI 1.62 to 2.57, n=2311 vs 1.82, 95% CI 1.28 to 2.58, n=1804).
Conclusions The validity of self-reported assessment of shift work varies between work schedules. Exposure misclassification in self-reported data may contribute to bias towards the null in shift work without night shifts.
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