Occupational injury research depends on the ability to accurately assess workplace exposures for large numbers of workers. This study used mixed modeling to identify observed and self-reported predictors of mean, 90th percentile, and cumulative low back muscle activity to help researchers efficiently assess physical exposures in epidemiological studies. Full-shift low back electromyography (EMG) was measured for 133 worker-days in heavy industry. Additionally, full-shift, 1-min interval work-sampling observations and post-shift interviews assessed exposure to work tasks, trunk postures, and manual materials handling. Data were also collected on demographic and job variables. Regression models using observed variables predicted 31-47% of the variability in the EMG activity measures, while self-reported variables predicted 21-36%. Observation-based models performed better than self-report-based models and may provide an alternative to direct measurement of back injury risk factors.