Introduction Occupational exposures are associated with the presence of a significant proportion of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The majority of the previous population studies have relied on self-reported exposures to vapours, gases, dusts and fumes (VGDF), which could lead to substantial misclassification. We aim to develop an occupational inhalation job exposure matrix (JEM) developed for use specifically with SOC 2000 occupational codes covering a wider range of occupational airborne pollutant types.
Methods The development of airborne chemical exposure JEM (ACE-JEM) involved a four-stage approach; first, exposure (yes/no) to each of the six different airborne pollutants types (vapours, gases, dusts, fumes, fibres and mists; VGDFFM) was assessed for each of the 353 SOC codes, then three levels of exposure estimates (low, medium and high) (L-JEM1) and four levels of proportion exposed (0–4%, 5–9%, 20–49% and >=50%) (P-JEM2) were assigned to the exposed codes and for each pollutant type. The two P and L JEMs were then combined to produce the final ACE-JEM. The estimated exposure of the 6 pollutant types was expanded to include biological dusts, mineral dusts, metals, diesel fumes and asthmagens.
Results For L-JEM1 186 (53%) of the codes were assigned as exposed to at least one type of VGDFFM. The most common exposure was dust (40% of all SOC codes) followed by fumes (26%). Over 68% of all codes were assigned as not being exposed to fibres, gases or mists. The pollutant with the highest proportion in the high exposure group was dusts (13%), and 33% of the codes were assigned as exposed to asthmagens. Overall, 53% of the codes were assigned as exposed to CGDF, with 22% assigned as having medium or high exposure to VGDF.
Disccussion An expert assessment derived JEM has been developed, using a strict set of a priori defined rules. This JEM will assist attribution of possible harmful workplace exposures in future epidemiological studies. The ACE-JEM could also be applied to studies to assess risks of other respiratory diseases, including asthma and extrinsic allergic alveolitis.