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When and why do experts perform exposure measurements?: An exploratory study of safety engineers, work environment inspectors, and occupational hygienists.
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
2006 (English)In: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, ISSN 1545-9624, E-ISSN 1545-9632, Vol. 3, no 12, 713-717 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The aim of this study was to describe experts' decision processes leading to measurements of occupational chemical exposure. Safety engineers, clinical occupational hygienists, and work environment inspectors (four from each group) were interviewed according to a semistructured scheme. We analyzed: (i) perceived triggers for measurements, (ii) the experts' decision criteria for performing measurements when there was a trigger, and (iii) sampling strategy. Regarding triggers, all safety engineers reported a “request” from, for example, an employer; all work environment inspectors reported “legal demands;” and all clinical occupational hygienists reported “symptoms among workers.” As a decision criterion, all the interviewees reported that they measured only if they expected sufficiently high levels. The results of the present study highlight factors that trigger measurements and are of importance in determining whether measurements will be performed. These factors appear to be related to the expert's professional role and may bias the assessment of exposure. Thus, when using data from routine measurements done by experts, the possibility of a bias needs to be considered.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2006. Vol. 3, no 12, 713-717 p.
Keyword [en]
Decision Making, Occupational Exposure, Occupational Health/statistics & numerical data, Safety, Workplace
National Category
Medical and Health Sciences
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-9186DOI: 10.1080/15459620601015893PubMedID: 17133692OAI: diva2:148857
Available from: 2008-03-07 Created: 2008-03-07 Last updated: 2011-06-08Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Chemical exposure in the work place: mental models of workers and experts
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Chemical exposure in the work place: mental models of workers and experts
2008 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

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
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-1646 (URN)978-91-7264-548-6 (ISBN)
Public defence
2008-05-28, NUS, sal B, plan 9, By 1D, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 09:00 (English)
Available from: 2008-05-12 Created: 2008-05-12 Last updated: 2011-06-08Bibliographically approved

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Pettersson-Strömbäck, Anita EBergdahl, Ingvar AJärvholm, Bengt GNordin, Steven
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