Variability in Muscle Activity and Wrist Motion Measurements Among Workers Performing Non-Cyclic Work

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Appropriate sampling strategies for estimation of exposure to physical risk factors require knowledge of exposure variability over time. Limited information is available about the variability of exposure to physical risk factors for upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders, especially during non-cyclic work activities. We investigated the magnitude and relative contributions of several sources of variance to the total exposure variance among office, custodial, or maintenance workers (N = 5 per group). In addition, we examined the homogeneity of exposure within each group of workers and exposure contrast between groups of workers. Activation of the flexor carpi radialis and upper trapezius muscle groups was assessed with surface electromyography (EMG) and wrist motion was assessed with electrogoniometry. Exposure information was collected continuously over a complete work shift on two occasions. We observed a substantial contribution of the within-day-within-subject variance component to the total exposure variance for all EMG and electrogoniometer summary measures. We also observed limited exposure contrast between the occupational groups in summary measures of upper trapezius EMG and most electrogoniometry summary measures. The large within-day-within-subject variance suggests the need for prolonged measurement durations (e.g., more than 1 hr) in future epidemiologic investigations of associations between exposure to physical risk factors and upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders.