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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Balancing efficiencies and tradeoffs in epidemiological field studies : evaluating EMG exposure assessment for low back injury risk factors in heavy industry Trask, Catherine Mary


In order to investigate the etiology of and evaluate interventions for work-related back injuries, researchers need efficient, accurate occupational exposure assessment methods suitable for large samples. The chapters in this thesis examine critical decisions using electromyography (EMG): How should exposure be measured? For what duration? Who should be measured, and how many times? Low-back EMG, or muscle activity data, was collected during 138 full-shift field measurements over 30 different job titles at 50 different worksites in 5 heavy industries: forestry, transportation, wood products, construction, and warehousing. Observations and self-reports of posture, manual materials handling (MMH), and driving exposures were collected concurrently. 1) Variability of EMG calibration measurements was investigated on right/left sides, multiple trials, 4 positions, and pre/post-shift. Position accounts for the majority of explained variability; there is little to gain by measuring multiple trials or pre- and post-shift, but measuring both sides and multiple positions is worthwhile. 2) Observation and self-report data were easier to collect and cheaper than the EMG direct measure. Costs and successful field performance need to be weighed against the added data detail when making choices about exposure assessment techniques for epidemiological studies. 3) Observed and self-reported exposures were used to predict EMG exposure metrics using mixed multiple linear regression models. Regression models using observed variables predicted 43-50% of the variability in the EMG metrics, while self-reported variables predicted 21%-36%. The observation exposure model provides a low-cost alternative to direct measurement. The self-reported exposure model should be considered with more caution. 4) Full-shift EMG data was resampled for 4, 2, and 1 hour, and for 10 and 2 minute durations to determine the optimal sampling duration. Bias was consistently low, but shorter durations had higher absolute error, percentage error, and limits of agreement. Durations of 4 and 2 hours may be acceptable but those less than 1 hour had large errors. 5) Components of EMG variance were calculated between- and within-subject, and between- industry, company, job, and post hoc grouping. Resolution, contrast, and exposure-response relationship attenuation were calculated for each grouping scheme. The post hoc scheme had the highest contrast and lowest resolution.

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