The association between occupational exposure and COPD reported previously has mostly been derived from studies relying on self-reported exposure to vapors, gases, dust, or fumes (VGDF), which could be subjective and prone to biases. The aim of this study was to assess the strength of association between exposure and COPD from studies that derived exposure by job exposure matrices (JEMs).
A systematic search of JEM-based occupational COPD studies published between 1980 and 2015 was conducted in PubMed and EMBASE, followed by meta-analysis. Meta-analysis was performed using a random-effects model, with results presented as a pooled effect estimate with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). The quality of study (risk of bias and confounding) was assessed by 13 RTI questionnaires. Heterogeneity between studies and its possible sources were assessed by Egger test and meta-regression, respectively.
In all, 61 studies were identified and 29 were included in the meta-analysis. Based on JEM-based studies, there was 22% (pooled odds ratio =1.22; 95% CI 1.18-1.27) increased risk of COPD among those exposed to airborne pollutants arising from occupation. Comparatively, higher risk estimates were obtained for general populations JEMs (based on expert consensus) than workplace-based JEM were derived using measured exposure data (1.26; 1.20-1.33 vs 1.14; 1.10-1.19). Higher risk estimates were also obtained for self-reported exposure to VGDF than JEMs-based exposure to VGDF (1.91; 1.72-2.13 vs 1.10; 1.06-1.24). Dusts, particularly biological dusts (1.33; 1.17-1.51), had the highest risk estimates for COPD. Although the majority of occupational COPD studies focus on dusty environments, no difference in risk estimates was found for the common forms of occupational airborne pollutants.
The findings highlight the need to interpret previous studies with caution as self-reported exposure to VGDF may have overestimated the risk of occupational COPD.