Chemical exposure in the work place: mental models of workers and experts
2008 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Many workers are daily exposed to chemical risks in their work place that has to be assessed and controlled. Due to exposure variability, repeated and random measurements should be conducted for valid estimates of the average exposure. Traditionally, experts such as safety engineers, work environment inspectors, and occupational hygienists, have performed the measurements. In self assessment of exposure (SAE), the workers perform unsupervised exposure measurements of chemical agents.
This thesis studies a prerequisite for SAE, i.e. the workers’ mental models of chemical exposure. Further, the workers’ mental models are contrasted with experts’ reasons and decision criteria for measurement.
Both qualitative and quantitative data generated from three studies (Paper I, II, and III) were used to describe the workers’ mental model of chemical exposure. SAE was introduced to workers in three different industries; transports (benzene), sawmill industry (monoterpenes), and reinforced plastic industry (styrene). By interviews, qualitative data were collected on the workers’ interpretation of measurement results and preventive actions. To evaluate the validity of worker measurement, the measurements were compared with expert measurements. The association between each worker’s number of performed measurement and mean level and variability in exposure concentrations was calculated. Mean absolute percent/forecast error (MAPE) was used to assess whether the workers’ decision models were in accordance with a coherence or correspondence model. In Paper IV, experts (safety engineers, work environment inspectors, and occupational hygienists) were interviewed to elucidate their mental models about the triggers and decision criteria for exposure measurements.
The results indicate that the workers’ measurement results were in agreement with experts’. However, the measurement results were not a strong enough signal to induce workers to take preventive actions and sustained exposure measurements even if the measurement result were close to the occupational exposure limit. The fit was best for the median model, indicating that the workers’ mental models for interpretation of measurement data can best be described by the coherence theory rather than by the correspondence theory. The workers seemed to mentally reduce the variation in the exposure to a measure of central tendency (the median), and underestimated the average exposure level. The experts were found to directly take preventive actions instead of performing exposure measurements. When they performed exposure measurements, a worst case sampling strategy was most common. An important trigger for measurement for the experts was “request from the employer” (safety engineers), “legal demands” (work environment inspectors), and “symptoms among workers” (occupational hygienists). When there was a trigger, all experts mentioned expectations of high exposure level as a decision criterion for measurements.
In conclusion, the studies suggest that workers’ mental interpretation model is best described in terms of a coherence model rather than a model of correspondence. The workers reduced the variation mentally in favor of an estimate of average exposure (median), which may imply that they underestimate short-term, high exposure health risks. A consequence is that interpretation of measurements such as SAE cannot be given to the individual worker without some support, e.g. from an expert. However, experts often chose to directly take preventive actions, without measuring the exposure. The results indicate that also the experts need support e.g. from the legal system if exposure measurements are to be done.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Yrkes- och miljömedicin , 2008.
Umeå University medical dissertations, ISSN 0346-6612 ; 1173
self-assessment of exposure, predictions, expert judgment, risk, interpretation, time series analysis, MAPE, benzene, monoterpenes, styrene
Research subject Occupational and Environmental Medicine
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-1646ISBN: 978-91-7264-548-6OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-1646DiVA: diva2:141686
2008-05-28, NUS, sal B, plan 9, By 1D, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 09:00 (English)
Törner, Marianne, Docent
Järvholm, Bengt, ProfessorNordin, Steven, ProfessorStrangert, Bo
List of papers