Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1999;25(5):410-414    pdf

doi:10.5271/sjweh.453

Retrospective versus original information on physical and psychosocial exposure at work

by Köster M, Alfredsson L, Michélsen H, Vingård E, Kilbom Å

Objectives Retrospective exposure assessments are often performed in epidemiologic studies. The presence of an eventual misclassification, both nondifferential and differential, is debated but can rarely be investigated. The aim of this study was to compare self-reported information on the same physical and psychosocial work exposures with 25 years= difference.

Methods In 1969--1970 a survey of randomly chosen men and women in Stockholm county, concerning, among other things, work exposures, was undertaken. During 1993--1994, 280 subjects participated in a reexamination, regarding psychosocial and physical factors at work and musculoskeletal disorders. The questions were all formulated in the same way as in 1969--1970.

Results When self-reported information on work exposures, collected with a 25-year interval, was compared, acceptable, although not high, agreement was found for 3 out of 4 physical factors and for 4 out of 10 physical environmental factors. Questions measuring psychosocial load had somewhat lower agreement. Current exposure status influenced the memory of past exposures. Study subjects who reported low-back disorders at the reexamination tended to show a better agreement in their assessments of retrospective exposures than those without current symptoms. When relative risks from original and retrospective data were calculated, hardly any influence on the estimates due to that differential misclassification could be found. For persons with and without neck or shoulder symptoms no apparent differences in assessments were found.

Conclusions Retrospective assessments of exposures at the workplace showed misclassifications to a certain degree. However, the influence of the misclassifications on the risk estimates was limited.

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