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Implications of Common and Special Variation for Occupational Health: Examples From Beryllium Manufacturing

Deubner, David C. MD, MPH

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: July 2013 - Volume 55 - Issue 7 - p 839–845
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31828dc94e
Original Articles

Objective: Common variation is a statistical process-control term for variability associated with usual operating conditions. Special variation occurs when usual operating conditions are disrupted. The objective was to explore the implications for preventive occupational medicine practice of common and special variation in air-level exposure.

Methods: Illustrations are derived from US and UK beryllium facility databases.

Results: Special variation may be missed in finite sampling sets, giving a very inaccurate indication of the highest air levels experienced on the job. Depending on the toxicologic model, failure to assess special variation influences the meaningfulness of aspects of occupational prevention, from medical surveillance through risk management.

Conclusions: Jobs and tasks should be characterized for special variation in addition to traditional air sampling. Both special variation and common variation should be considered in occupational medicine preventive practice.

From Materion Brush, Inc, Elmore, Ohio.

Address correspondence to: David C. Deubner, MD, MPH, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Materion Brush, Inc, 14710 W Portage River S Rd, Elmore, OH 43416 (

The author is a full-time employee of Materion Brush, Inc, a manufacturer of beryllium materials. His compensation includes salary, bonus based partly on company financial performance, and stock and stock options. This article draws examples from the beryllium industry, including data from Materion Brush, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine