OSHA Issues Guidance on Spirometry Testing to Prevent Respiratory Hazard Exposure

OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed two guidance documents, one for workers and one for employers, describing the use of spirometry testing to help reduce and prevent worker exposure to respiratory hazards.

Spirometry is a common pulmonary function test that measures how well a person moves air in and out of the lungs. Workers who inhale some types of dusts, gases or other air contaminants can, over time, experience lung damage. The spirometry test may detect breathing problems or significant changes in a worker’s lung function at an early stage.

“Spirometry is the best available test for early detection of decreasing or abnormal lung function,” said OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels. “Our joint effort with NIOSH in developing these products will help broaden outreach and enhance knowledge of preventive measures aimed at protecting worker health and safety.”

The Documents

The information in these new guidance documents assists employers with identifying and eliminating hazardous workplace exposures and helping reduce or prevent the chances of workers developing lung disease.

The new guidance document for employers clarifies what spirometry is, when it is needed and critical elements that employers can use to evaluate the quality of spirometry services provided to their workers. It also describes how monitoring workers’ lung function over time can help individuals by identifying problems early and make the workplace safer by identifying when workplace respiratory hazards are causing problems that must be corrected.

The companion document, OSHA-NIOSH Worker Info, explains to workers the importance of taking a spirometry test, what to do during the test and their right to receive an explanation and copy of test results.

“We are pleased to join with OSHA in emphasizing the important role of spirometry in preventing costly, debilitating and potentially fatal occupational lung diseases,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “These tests are a vital component of health and safety programs in workplaces where workers may be exposed to hazardous airborne contaminants.”

OSHA also recommends spirometry testing for workers exposed to diacetyl and diacetyl substitutes. The agency recently issued a safety and health bulletin, Occupational Exposure to Flavoring Substances: Health Effects and Hazard Control, and a companion Worker Alert on Diacetyl and Substitutes. These documents recommend that employers include spirometry testing in their medical surveillance programs to identify workers experiencing adverse health effects from exposure to flavorings, including food flavorings containing diacetyl.

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