TAKEAWAY: Spirometry testing is a type of pulmonary function test often used by employers as part of their overall lung health monitoring program. Keep reading to learn more about this test type.
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Spirometry, also known as pulmonary lung function testing, is the most common form of lung function testing. It helps employers manage the risk of lung damage from dust, fumes, mist, smoke, gases, vapours, and other harmful airborne particulates that can adversely affect worker health.
Spirometry measures how quickly a person can move air in and out of their lungs. There are 3 components:
- The volume of air inhaled
- The volume of air exhaled
- Speed of exhalation
Employers in various industries must ensure their workers undergo regular pulmonary lung function monitoring and testing, such as spirometry. Testing should be related to the lung-related hazards an individual is exposed to on the worksite.
This article explores reasons to use spirometry testing, testing risks, and what to do with test results. It also aims to help employers understand how spirometry fits into a lung health monitoring program, as well as testing requirement basics.
Why use spirometry testing?
Employers in industries that present increased risks for lung disease should strongly consider implementing a lung health testing and monitoring program, which could include spirometry and other assessments such as chest x-rays and questionnaires regarding personal health and occupational exposure history. High-risk industries include mining, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, transportation, and beauty.
Some of the known substances that can trigger lung health issues include:
- Coal dust in mining causes lung inflammation and scarring and can lead to black lung disease
- Crystalline silica, a type of dust in manufacturing and mining, can cause lung scarring
- Asbestos from old buildings, can stiffen and scar lungs and sometimes lead to lung cancer
- Silica dust in construction can cause breathing and chronic cough issues
- Fungus spores, bacteria, chemicals, and mold can all cause breathing difficulties and create scar tissue in the lungs
Employers must first understand what substances could lead to lung health issues in their workers. Then they can implement an action plan to help protect employees from substances linked to lung health problems.
Spirometry can be used alongside other strategies to monitor lung health and reduce risk of disease. Employers will also need to address hazard reduction or elimination. Using appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is another crucial approach for protecting workers’ lung health.
Spirometry testing is one of many ways employers can monitor the respiratory health of their workers. It enables employers to take a proactive approach toward testing and monitoring rather than waiting until an employee has breathing problems to take action. Spirometry is a first step toward diagnosing asthma, lung disease, or other lung conditions.
How spirometry testing works | Preparation and procedure
Spirometry is a straight forward test with minimal preparation requirements. Ideally, the subject should wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t restrict breathing and should not eat a large meal just before the test. People taking prescription medication should check with their doctor regarding any medications they should not take before testing.
Testing takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. The subject wears a nose clip, then takes a deep breath and exhales as hard and fast as they can into a tube.
This tube is connected to a spirometer, measuring air volume and exhalation speed. The person conducting the test should complete it three times to confirm the accuracy of the results.
Risks of spirometry testing
Spirometry should not pose any risks to healthy individuals. People with heart disease or those who have had recent surgery should check with their physician regarding testing safety.
It’s possible that testing may cause the subject to feel lightheaded or tired.
Interpreting spirometry test results
Spirometry results show the total forced breathing capacity against time to provide insights into a person’s lung capacity. This value is compared with normative data, which considers age, gender, weight, ethnicity, and health history factors. Comparing results against normative data helps determine whether an employee’s lung function is within normal parameters.
Spirometry is not a diagnostic test. It relies on the worker’s understanding, cooperation, and best efforts. When the results are outside the expected ranges, the test subject follows up with a physician or pulmonologist for further testing.
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How spirometry testing fits into lung health monitoring programs
Lung health testing and monitoring programs help identify potential lung health issues early. Doing so enables employers to establish an intervention plan to reduce harm to their workers.
Lung health testing programs should be relevant to specific industries, workplaces, and job roles. Examples of lung testing services include spirometry, lead exposure health monitoring, medical surveillance, chest x-rays, worker health/occupational exposure questionnaires, and Respirator Fit Testing (Mask Fit Testing).
Employers may use a test like spirometry as a stand-alone test or alongside other tests. Sometimes, standards specify required tests and when to do them.
Companies and organizations can use pre-employment lung health testing to help identify any pre-existing concerns. Doing so enables the employer to implement any necessary modifications to help minimize risks to the worker.
Periodic testing enables employers to monitor any changes to worker health by comparing results with baseline tests. Ultimately, lung health testing and monitoring is a proactive approach to protecting workers’ health.
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Failure to meet Occupational Health and Safety standards may result in fines, legal action, and put your employees at risk of developing potentially serious – and possibly fatal – health conditions. SureHire can help!
Spirometry and other lung health testing requirements
Canadian and U.S. employers must be aware of applicable standards for lung health testing and monitoring. These standards may include spirometry and other testing types.
Most Canadian provinces have lung health testing requirements based on Occupational health and safety (OHS) standards. Workers exposed to known toxic substances and those in specific job roles require specific baseline and follow-up tests.
For example, at-risk workers in Saskatchewan must have a baseline spirometry test, medical history questionnaire, and a physical exam completed at the time of hire, plus periodic testing every two years.
In the U.S, employers must understand the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for medical screening and surveillance. OSHA standards highlight testing requirements based on exposure to specific substances. For example, workers exposed to substances such as asbestos, benzene, cadmium, coke oven emissions, and cotton dust require some form of baseline and follow-up testing.
Employers can contact SureHire to learn more about spirometry testing services and requirements.
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