Objectives: A program called the Project on Research and Intervention in Monotonous Work (PRIM) was initiated in 1994 as a prospective cohort study of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. The group-based exposure assessment strategy, focusing on task-related exposure and used to obtain baseline measures of physical exposures, is reported in this paper.
Methods: Monotonous, repetitive worktasks were evaluated at 19 factories. Tasks with an estimated similarity in physical exposure were aggregated before 103 exposure groups were formed. Subjects from the exposure groups were randomly sampled for measurements, and task-related exposure levels were quantified by 43 single exposure items using a real-time video-based observation method that allowed computerized estimates of repetitiveness, body postures, force, and velocity. In combination with questionnaire-based data on task distribution, the duration of exposure was calculated at the individual level.
Results: The video-based observational method and the large number of exposure variables enabled the establishment of detailed quantitative exposure profiles in 103 task-based exposure groups. However, methodological problems associated with the use of grouped exposure assessment were revealed. Despite efforts to optimize group homogeneity, the within-group variance was larger than the between-group variance for several shoulder postural variables.
Conclusions: A task-based exposure-assessment strategy can be successful in solving some of the main problems associated with the assessment of physical workplace exposures. The large within-group variance in exposure to nonneutral shoulder postures may eventually require individual assessment or the inclusion of groups with maximal contrast in exposure or both.