A strategy to reduce healthy worker effect in a cross-sectional study of asthma and metalworking fluids

Am J Ind Med. 1997 Jun;31(6):671-7. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-0274(199706)31:6<671::aid-ajim1>3.0.co;2-u.


This report describes the reanalysis of a cross-sectional study of asthma in a large cohort of autoworkers with exposure to metalworking fluids (MWF). There is strong evidence from case reports, clinical studies, and medical surveillance data that exposure to MWF can cause asthma, yet no association was found in the original analysis. The central hypothesis of the reanalysis was that the absence of an association between asthma and MWF exposure was the result of bias caused by the self-selection of asthmatics out of exposed jobs. We addressed the potential job transfer bias by redefining exposure and disease status at the time of asthma onset, rather than at the time of the health survey. This permitted us to treat the cross-sectional study as if it were a historical cohort study, despite the fact that the population was a biased sample of the full cohort. This approach resulted in a significantly elevated incidence rate ratio of 3.2 (95% CI: 1.2-8.3) for synthetic MWF estimated in a Cox proportional hazards model. Although the cross-sectional design makes it impossible to document or control for differential selection out of the workforce, the approach described here provides a strategy for reducing the healthy-worker effect due to job transfer bias in cross-sectional studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Healthy Worker Effect
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metallurgy*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Respiratory Function Tests