Use of a modified delphi process for establishing occupational exposure limits in support of health surveillance for space travelers

Angel L Plaza, The University of Texas School of Public Health


On-orbit exposures can come from numerous factors related to the space environment as evidenced by almost 50 years of environmental samples collected for water analysis, air analysis, radiation analysis, and physiologic parameters. For astronauts and spaceflight participants the occupational exposures can be very different from those experienced by workers performing similar tasks in workplaces on Earth, because the duration of the exposure could be continuous for very long orbital, and eventually interplanetary, missions. The establishment of long-term exposure standards is vital to controlling the quality of the spacecraft environment over long periods. NASA often needs to update and revise its prior exposure standards (Spacecrafts Maximum Allowable Concentrations (SMACs)). Traditional standards-setting processes are often lengthy, so a more rapid method to review and establish standards would be a substantial advancement in this area. This project investigates use of the Delphi method for this purpose. In order to achieve the objectives of this study a modified Delphi methodology was tested in three trials executed by doctoral students and a panel of experts in disciplines related to occupational safety and health. During each test/trial modifications were made to the methodology. Prior to submission of the Delphi Questionnaire to the panel of experts a pilot study/trial was conducted using five doctoral students with the goals of testing and adjusting the Delphi questionnaire to improve comprehension, work out any procedural issues and evaluate the effectiveness of the questionnaire in drawing the desired responses. The remainder of the study consisted of two trials of the Modified Delphi process using 6 chemicals that currently have the potential of causing occupational exposures to NASA astronauts or spaceflight participants. To assist in setting Occupational Exposure Limits (OEL), the expert panel was established consisting of experts from academia, government and industry. Evidence was collected and used to create close-ended questionnaires which were submitted to the Delphi panel of experts for the establishment of OEL values for three chemicals from the list of six originally selected (trial 1). Once the first Delphi trial was completed, adjustments were made to the Delphi questionnaires and the process above was repeated with the remaining 3 chemicals (trial 2). Results indicate that experience in occupational safety and health and with OEL methodologies can have a positive effect in minimizing the time experts take in completing this process. Based on the results of the questionnaires and comparison of the results with the SMAC already established by NASA, we conclude that use of the Delphi methodology is appropriate for use in the decision-making process for the selection of OELs.

Subject Area

Occupational health|Environmental Health|Public health

Recommended Citation

Plaza, Angel L, "Use of a modified delphi process for establishing occupational exposure limits in support of health surveillance for space travelers" (2012). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3550729.