Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety
IN THIS ISSUE: Pulmonary Function Tests
In many OSHA standards a medical evaluation is required. As part of that evaluation, a pulmonary function test (PFT), also known as spirometry, may be specified by the physician. Some respiratory diseases slow the speed of expired air; others reduce the volume of air that can be inspired and then exhaled. Testing may be performed on workers who perform jobs that may cause exposure to possible lung hazards, are physically demanding, or require wearing a respirator.
Under the respiratory protection standard 1910.134 for general industry, a PFT is not required. However, many physicians use spirometry in their evaluations and mobile medical facilities often have it available as part of their services. Nearly all of the OSHA health standards have medical requirements and PFT is required on some specific standards. Examples of these standards include those for Respirable Crystalline Silica, Asbestos, and Cotton Dust. It is important to check the specific medical requirements of applicable standards before arranging for a medical evaluation.
The PFT measures maximum volume and speed of air that is forcibly exhaled after the maximum air is inspired. The time-course of the expiration is recorded as a volume-time curve and is shown as a flow-volume curve. The results are then compared with a normal curve or the employee’s previous testing. If results are significantly different, further evaluation may be required. Employees may have to perform the test several times until they get the right technique and the results are consistent. A PFT must be administered by a physician or spirometry technician with a current certificate from a NIOSH approved spirometry course.
It is important that employers medically evaluate their employees before and periodically if they wear respirators or work with hazardous chemicals or materials. Spirometry is an important part of that evaluation if the respirator or chemical creates an undue burden on the employees or affects their ability to breathe.
For more information on Pulmonary Function Testing see OSHA document “Spirometry Testing in Occupational Healthcare Programs” .
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