Bias and Precision in Biomechanical Exposure Assessment Making the Most of our Methods

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Background: Insufficient exposure assessment is a suggested contributing factor to the current lack of clearly characterised relationships between occupational biomechanical risk factors and musculoskeletal disorders. Minimal attention has been paid to the potential bias of measurement tools from expected true values (i.e. accuracy) or between measurement tools, and empirical data on the magnitudes of variance contributed by methodological factors for measurement tool precision are lacking.Aim: The aim of this thesis was to quantify aspects of bias and precision in three commonly employed biomechanical risk factor assessment tools - inclinometry, observation, and electromyography (EMG) - and provide recommendations guiding their use.Methods: Upper arm elevation angles (UAEAs) were assessed using inclinometers (INC) and by computer-based posture-matching observation, and bias relative to true angles was calculated. Calibration models were developed for INC data, and their efficacy in correcting measurement bias was evaluated. The total variance of trapezius and erector spinae (ES) EMG recordings during cyclic occupational work was partitioned into biological and methodological sources, including the variance uniquely attributable to sub-maximal normalisation. Using algorithms to estimate the precision of a group mean, the efficacy of different trapezius EMG study designs was evaluated. Using precision criteria, the efficacy of different normalisation methods was assessed for ES EMG recordings.Results and Discussion: Inclinometer measured UAEAs were biased from true angles, with increasing bias at higher angles. In contrast, computer based posture-matching observations were not biased from true angles.  Calibration models proved effective at minimizing INC data bias. The dispersion of estimates between- and within- observers at any given set angle underlined the importance of repeated observations when estimating UAEAs.  For EMG, a unique but relatively small component of the total variance was attributable to the methodological process of normalisation. Performing three repeats of the trapezius EMG normalisation task proved optimal at minimizing variance for one-day EMG studies, while two repeats sufficed for multi-day EMG studies. A prone normalisation task proved superior for maximizing normalised lumbar ES EMG precision.Conclusion: Key aspects of measurement tool accuracy, bias between tools, and tool precision were quantified, and recommendations were made to guide future research study design.