Occupational exposure decisions: Can limited data interpretation training help improve accuracy?

Perry Logan, Gurumurthy Ramachandran, John Mulhausen, Paul Hewett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Accurate exposure assessments are critical for ensuring that potentially hazardous exposures are properly identified and controlled. The availability and accuracy of exposure assessments can determine whether resources are appropriately allocated to engineering and administrative controls, medical surveillance, personal protective equipment and other programs designed to protect workers. A desktop study was performed using videos, task information and sampling data to evaluate the accuracy and potential bias of participants' exposure judgments. Desktop exposure judgments were obtained from occupational hygienists for material handling jobs with small air sampling data sets (0-8 samples) and without the aid of computers. In addition, data interpretation tests (DITs) were administered to participants where they were asked to estimate the 95th percentile of an underlying log-normal exposure distribution from small data sets. Participants were presented with an exposure data interpretation or rule of thumb training which included a simple set of rules for estimating 95th percentiles for small data sets from a log-normal population. DIT was given to each participant before and after the rule of thumb training. Results of each DIT and qualitative and quantitative exposure judgments were compared with a reference judgment obtained through a Bayesian probabilistic analysis of the sampling data to investigate overall judgment accuracy and bias. There were a total of 4386 participant-task-chemical judgments for all data collections: 552 qualitative judgments made without sampling data and 3834 quantitative judgments with sampling data. The DITs and quantitative judgments were significantly better than random chance and much improved by the rule of thumb training. In addition, the rule of thumb training reduced the amount of bias in the DITs and quantitative judgments. The mean DIT % correct scores increased from 47 to 64% after the rule of thumb training (P<0.001). The accuracy for quantitative desktop judgments increased from 43 to 63% correct after the rule of thumb training (P<0.001). The rule of thumb training did not significantly impact accuracy for qualitative desktop judgments. The finding that even some simple statistical rules of thumb improve judgment accuracy significantly suggests that hygienists need to routinely use statistical tools while making exposure judgments using monitoring data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-324
Number of pages14
JournalAnnals of Occupational Hygiene
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Data interpretation training
  • Decision making
  • Desktop study
  • Exposure assessment
  • Judgment accuracy and bias
  • Professional judgment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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