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Accuracy and precision of variance components in occupational posture recordings: a simulation study of different data collection strategies
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
2012 (English)In: BMC Medical Research Methodology, ISSN 1471-2288, Vol. 12, 58- p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background: Information on exposure variability, expressed as exposure variance components, is of vital use in occupational epidemiology, including informed risk control and efficient study design. While accurate and precise estimates of the variance components are desirable in such cases, very little research has been devoted to understanding the performance of data sampling strategies designed specifically to determine the size and structure of exposure variability. The aim of this study was to investigate the accuracy and precision of estimators of between-subjects, between-days and within-day variance components obtained by sampling strategies differing with respect to number of subjects, total sampling time per subject, number of days per subject and the size of individual sampling periods.

Methods: Minute-by-minute values of average elevation, percentage time above 90 degrees and percentage time below 15 degrees were calculated in a data set consisting of measurements of right upper arm elevation during four full shifts from each of 23 car mechanics. Based on this parent data, bootstrapping was used to simulate sampling with 80 different combinations of the number of subjects (10, 20), total sampling time per subject (60, 120, 240, 480 minutes), number of days per subject (2, 4), and size of sampling periods (blocks) within days (1, 15, 60, 240 minutes). Accuracy (absence of bias) and precision (prediction intervals) of the variance component estimators were assessed for each simulated sampling strategy.

Results: Sampling in small blocks within days resulted in essentially unbiased variance components. For a specific total sampling time per subject, and in particular if this time was small, increasing the block size resulted in an increasing bias, primarily of the between-days and the within-days variance components. Prediction intervals were in general wide, and even more so at larger block sizes. Distributing sampling time across more days gave in general more precise variance component estimates, but also reduced accuracy in some cases.

Conclusions: Variance components estimated from small samples of exposure data within working days may be both inaccurate and imprecise, in particular if sampling is laid out in large consecutive time blocks. In order to estimate variance components with a satisfying accuracy and precision, for instance for arriving at trustworthy power calculations in a planned intervention study, larger samples of data will be required than for estimating an exposure mean value with a corresponding certainty.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012. Vol. 12, 58- p.
National Category
Environmental Health and Occupational Health
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-57175DOI: 10.1186/1471-2288-12-58ISI: 000305413000001OAI: diva2:540243
Available from: 2012-07-09 Created: 2012-07-09 Last updated: 2012-09-11Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Efficient strategies for collecting posture data using observation and direct measurement
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Efficient strategies for collecting posture data using observation and direct measurement
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Effektiva strategier för insamling av data om arbetsställningar geom observation och direkta mätning
Abstract [en]

Relationships between occupational physical exposures and risks of contracting musculoskeletal disorders are still not well understood; exposure-response relationships are scarce in the musculoskeletal epidemiology literature, and many epidemiological studies, including intervention studies, fail to reach conclusive results. Insufficient exposure assessment has been pointed out as a possible explanation for this deficiency. One important aspect of assessing exposure is the selected measurement strategy; this includes issues related to the necessary number of data required to give sufficient information, and to allocation of measurement efforts, both over time and between subjects in order to achieve precise and accurate exposure estimates. These issues have been discussed mainly in the occupational hygiene literature considering chemical exposures, while the corresponding literature on biomechanical exposure is sparse. The overall aim of the present thesis was to increase knowledge on the relationship between data collection design and the resulting precision and accuracy of biomechanical exposure assessments, represented in this thesis by upper arm postures during work, data which have been shown to be relevant to disorder risk.

Four papers are included in the thesis. In papers I and II, non-parametric bootstrapping was used to investigate the statistical efficiency of different strategies for distributing upper arm elevation measurements between and within working days into different numbers of measurement periods of differing durations. Paper I compared the different measurement strategies with respect to the eventual precision of estimated mean exposure level. The results showed that it was more efficient to use a higher number of shorter measurement periods spread across a working day than to use a smaller number for longer uninterrupted measurement periods, in particular if the total sample covered only a small part of the working day. Paper II evaluated sampling strategies for the purpose of determining posture variance components with respect to the accuracy and precision of the eventual variance component estimators. The paper showed that variance component estimators may be both biased and imprecise when based on sampling from small parts of working days, and that errors were larger with continuous sampling periods. The results suggest that larger posture samples than are conventionally used in ergonomics research and practice may be needed to achieve trustworthy estimates of variance components.

Papers III and IV focused on method development. Paper III examined procedures for estimating statistical power when testing for a group difference in postures assessed by observation. Power determination was based either on a traditional analytical power analysis or on parametric bootstrapping, both of which accounted for methodological variance introduced by the observers to the exposure data. The study showed that repeated observations of the same video recordings may be an efficient way of increasing the power in an observation-based study, and that observations can be distributed between several observers without loss in power, provided that all observers contribute data to both of the compared groups, and that the statistical analysis model acknowledges observer variability. Paper IV discussed calibration of an inferior exposure assessment method against a superior “golden standard” method, with a particular emphasis on calibration of observed posture data against postures determined by inclinometry. The paper developed equations for bias correction of results obtained using the inferior instrument through calibration, as well as for determining the additional uncertainty of the eventual exposure value introduced through calibration.

In conclusion, the results of the present thesis emphasize the importance of carefully selecting a measurement strategy on the basis of statistically well informed decisions. It is common in the literature that postural exposure is assessed from one continuous measurement collected over only a small part of a working day. In paper I, this was shown to be highly inefficient compared to spreading out the corresponding sample time across the entire working day, and the inefficiency was also obvious when assessing variance components, as shown in paper II. The thesis also shows how a well thought-out strategy for observation-based exposure assessment can reduce the effects of measurement error, both for random methodological variance (paper III) and systematic observation errors (bias) (paper IV).

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2012. 47 p.
Umeå University medical dissertations, ISSN 0346-6612 ; 1519
Exposure assessment, arm elevation, exposure variability, variance components, random effects model, precision, bias, sample size, sample allocation, calibration, bootstrapping
National Category
Environmental Health and Occupational Health
Research subject
Occupational and Environmental Medicine
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-59132 (URN)978-91-7459-469-0 (ISBN)
Public defence
2012-10-02, NA320, Umeå Universitet, Umeå, 13:00 (English)
Available from: 2012-09-11 Created: 2012-09-10 Last updated: 2012-09-11Bibliographically approved

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