Why does my employer want me to take a spirometry test?

Q:

Why does my employer want me to take a spirometry test?

A:

Spirometry testing may be used not only to monitor your respiratory health but also to determine your fitness to perform specific tasks. In some instances, a spirometry test may be mandatory because of the respiratory hazards associated with your job. In other cases, your employer may choose to require spirometry testing as part of a workplace safety program.

What is a Spirometry Test?

A spirometry test is a common type of pulmonary function test that measures how well you can move air in and out of your lungs. This test measures the efficiency and effectiveness of your breathing. When taking a spirometry test, you are asked to breathe in and out through your mouth for several minutes into a mouthpiece connected to the spirometer. The results of a spirometry test are reported as your forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume (FEV-1). The FVC measure indicates the maximum amount of air that you can exhale after breathing deeply. The FEV-1 represents the amount of air that you can exhale in one second.

Your doctor can use these measurements to determine whether your breathing is restricted and how severe the problem is. Poor FEV-1 or FVC scores can be an early indicator that your pulmonary health is at risk.

Why is a Spirometry Test Important?

Not all lung damage occurs as a result of workplace exposures. Exposure to cigarette smoke, inhalation of dust or particulates, gases, or other air contaminants either on the job or in your personal environment can cause impaired lung function. Conditions such as asthma and COPD can also impair your lung function. However, by measuring your lung function via spirometry testing on a regular basis, your employer can potentially identify respiratory risks in your workplace or otherwise undetected hazardous exposures. This information allows you and your employer to take actions to protect your health before you suffer severe lung damage.

Examples of When Spirometry Testing May be Required

Requiring spirometry testing when there is a potential for respiratory harm in the workplace allows your employer to monitor your respiratory health and also to track the health of your co-workers as a group. By discovering evidence of lung damage early through regular testing, your employer can implement changes to your workplace to make it safer.

If your job is physically demanding, requires you to wear a respirator (which should be fitted with mask fit testing), or exposes you to breathing hazards, your employer may ask you to participate in a respiratory health surveillance program that includes spirometry testing. You may also be asked to participate in testing if you show signs of breathing difficulty while on the job.

Examples of When Spirometry Testing is Mandatory

If you are exposed to asbestos, cadmium, coke oven emissions, or cotton dust through the course of your work, then U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations require spirometry testing as a part of your employer's medical surveillance program. For employees who are exposed to levels of formaldehyde and benzene that necessitate the use of a respirator, pre-assignment and annual pulmonary function testing is also mandatory. Pre-assignment testing ensures that you do not have an existing condition that would be exacerbated by the use of a respirator or exposure to respiratory hazards. Ongoing testing is used to confirm that your personal protective equipment and the workplace's other safety measures are working effectively.

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Written by Shauna Krahn
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Shauna Krahn is the manager of medical services at SureHire Occupational Testing, a leading expert in the occupational health and wellness testing industry. SureHire is revolutionizing the occupational testing industry through its proprietary Fitness-to-Work assessments, drug testing adulteration protocols, automated tracking systems, standardized national training and certification system, and industry leading online technologies.   Full Bio