Is The ACE Job–Exposure Matrix More Broadly Applicable In The UK Biobank?

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A job-exposure matrix (JEM) is an approximation of potential health hazard exposures used in occupational epidemiological studies. The matrix of exposure levels to toxic or potentially harmful agents is extrapolated from occupational titles. As workplaces and individual circumstances vary a degree of error is inherent in the measure. JEMs have been used in conjunction with the UK Biobank to make inferences about respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in connection with environmental particulate matter (PM) exposure. In addition particulate matter may be associated with other conditions but this has yet to be investigated in conjunction with the UK Biobank.

John W. Cherrie of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK, and colleagues aimed to evaluate the suitability of the The Airborne Chemical Exposure Job–Exposure Matrix (ACE JEM) in assessing occupational aerosol exposure of participants in the UK Biobank cohort to airborne dust, fumes and diesel exhaust particulates in relation to neurological diseases, type II diabetes, and others. This would inform whether the tool needs further development iterations. The results were published in the International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health. 

ACE JEM was developed by the UK Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 2000 system principally as a tool to investigate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) amongst the participants in the UK Biobank. The suitability of the ACE JEM for other conditions, in addition to COPD, was checked in two ways. First the scientific literature was searched to compare. Second an independent expert-based assessment of the JEM coding was made.

The literature evidence appeared strong for construction operatives, carpenters and joiners, furniture makers and craft woodworkers, and farmers and bakers for dust and biological dust exposure in their work environment. This was in agreement with ACE JEM. For all the other toxic agent exposures, there was little to be found in the literature to positively support the JEM assignments. This does not, however, mean that the literature contradicts JEM, merely that no studies have thus far been conducted regarding these other toxic particulates. 


“The ACE JEM might be a good instrument to examine occupational exposures that contribute to COPD development, as it has demonstrated positive findings in epidemiological analyses in the UK Biobank cohort, which strengthens its reliability. However, it should be improved, or used with caution, when used as a tool to examine associations between occupational exposures and other diseases, such as dementia or diabetes,” concluded the authors.