Following last month’s SkyCity fire, air quality experts have estimated the event caused a spike in particulate levels in Queen St air to more than five times national air quality standards. Smoke from the fire carried a combination of particles, burnt bitumen, wood smoke, and smoke from other building materials – resulting in tiny toxic particles potentially being drawn into the lungs and blood vessels of Aucklanders exposed. 

The event and subsequent air quality research serves as a timely reminder of the hazards of particulate spikes, which, at that level, could increase the risk of stroke, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. It also highlights the importance of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) for New Zealand workers who may be exposed to harmful substances, such as isocyanates, dusts and asbestos.

TriEx offers a variety of air quality and related health services, including lung function testing and Respirator Fit Testing and education.

Spirometry

Spirometry is an office test measuring lung function by testing the amount of air you inhale, how much air you exhale and how fast you exhale. It’s useful in diagnosing breathing conditions by measuring the speed your lungs can be filled and emptied of air – giving an indication of how well your lungs are performing.

TriEx offers lung function tests – including spirometry – for employees who are exposed to contaminants in the air that could affect lung function.

What does Lung Function Testing Include?

  • Assessment of the employee’s past and present air contaminant history (includes recreational)

Full diagnostic Spirometry

Explanation of the results to the employee

Education on responsibility to protect

Assessment of their respiratory protection to comply with your annual audit of PPE

Lung Function Testing Helps You:

  • Identify employees at risk from hazardous air contaminants in the workplace
  • Comply with the ‘Approved Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Isocyanates’ and ‘Workplace Exposure Standards’
  • Take necessary action with regard to respiratory protection

What can Employees Expect During Their Test?

Spirometry tests are straightforward and will usually only take around 15 minutes. The test involves taking a full breath in and blowing out with your best effort into a tube attached to the spirometer machine.

To ensure accuracy, the test will be performed three times, and employees will be asked to:

  • Breathe in as deeply as they can
  • Seal their lips around the mouthpiece
  • Blow out as hard and fast as they can, and keep going as long as possible.

Spirometry tests may cause employees to feel a bit puffed, but usually it is not uncomfortable.  

If your workers are likely to be exposed to airborne contaminants, you will need to undertake air monitoring for chemical and dust exposure.

Respirator Fit Testing

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is a type of personal protective equipment (PPE) that guards workers from breathing in substances hazardous to health. 

Airborne substances harmful to health can be in found dust, mist, vapour or gas form, and employees may or may not be able to see these in the air. Common health effects from breathing hazardous substances may include headaches, forgetfulness, drowsiness, feeling dizzy and sick, mood changes, and eye and skin irritation. Effects can be short and long-term, with long-term effects including sleep disorders, memory loss, cancer, organ damage, fertility problems and death. 

If anyone in your team wears Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) then as the PCBU you must provide information, training or instruction on how to correctly use, wear, store and maintain the RPE.

RPE Fit Testing Requirements

Fit testing is required by AS/NZS 1715 before a respirator is worn in the workplace to ensure workers are wearing properly fitting RPE, with an effective seal to the face. 

A fit test should be conducted:

  • Upon the issue of RPE, 
  • Whenever a different size, style, model or make of respirator is used
  • When any facial changes occur that could affect fit, such as significant weight changes or significant dental work

RPE fit tests should also be conducted at least annually to ensure fit remains correct. TriEx recommends fit testing alongside annual health monitoring, where our Occupational Health Nurses discuss respiratory history and exposure history an perform lung function testing.

What is Involved in RPE Fit Testing?

TriEx carries out Qualitative Fit Testing for half face respirators used in environments where the hazard is less than 10 times the workplace exposure standard.

A sensitivity test is completed without RPE under a hood. The RPE is then worn and either a bitter or sweet solution is introduced whilst the worker carries out a variety of activities for one minute each including:

  • Normal breathing
  • Deep breathing
  • Moving head side to side
  • Moving head up and down
  • Bending over (or jogging in place)
  • Talking
  • Normal breathing again

RPE Education

Education is given as part of TriEx’s RPE Fit Testing service. This education includes care and maintenance of respiratory equipment and how to fit check RPE.

Contact TriEx today to learn more about lung function testing and RPE fit testing and education. Our experts can advise you on the most appropriate services to meet your business needs.