One of the most important things we can do for good health is to protect our lungs.  Smokers probably don’t want to think about it, but we should do everything possible to be able to breathe easily!  I looked up a few words that pertain to helping those with work exposure to respiratory hazards, and want to share what I learned.  Those who are involved probably already know all about the subject, but for those who don’t, bear with us. 

According to McGraw-Hill Science & Technology Dictionary, spirometry is the measurement, by a form of gas meter, (spirometer) of volumes of air that can be moved in or out of the lungs.  Spirometers are instruments used to test lung capacity; spirometry is the gold standard for diagnosing and monitoring the progression of C.O.P.D.  Spirometers can be stand-alone, diagnostic PC-based, or pocket-sized.  Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S., affecting more than five per cent of the adult U.S. population. 

Respiration, according to Briticannica Concise Encyclopedia, is the process of taking in air for oxygen and releasing it to dispose of carbon dioxide.  The amount of air inhaled and exhaled in an average human breath is about one-eighth the amount that can be inhaled after exhaling as much as possible.  Nerve centers in the brain regulate the movements of muscles of respiration (diaphragm and chest wall muscles).  Blood in the pulmonary circulation brings carbon dioxide from the tissues, to be exhaled and takes up oxygen from the air in the pulmonary alveoli to carry it to the heart and the rest of the body.  Because the body stores almost no oxygen, interruption of respiration – by asphyxiation, drowning, or chest muscle paralysis – for more than a minute can cause death. 

Spirometry Monitoring Technology

From the Centers for Disease Control, spirometry monitoring is recommended for persons with occupational exposure to respiratory hazards, and is best done as part of an overall health maintenance program in which results of spirometry evaluations are linked with exposure control, smoking cessation, and general health-promotion interventions. Spirometry monitoring should be done to prevent development of disabling chronic lung function impairment through early intervention on excessive lung function loss. Spirometry plays an important role in an occupational respiratory health surveillance program. It can assist the health professional by determining if a worker demonstrates a specific pattern of respiratory impairment and can help to assess the effectiveness of measures implemented to protect the individual worker. In addition, results from defined groups of workers can be evaluated in relation to potential workplace hazards.

Protecting the health of individual workers is a primary objective of various workplace surveillance programs. Results from an individual should be further assessed if abnormalities are detected or if pulmonary function values show an excessive decline in comparison to the individual’s previous tests. After ruling out technical causes for low or declining pulmonary function, efforts must be made to identify the cause. If the cause is related to a workplace exposure, then steps must be taken to better control or eliminate the exposure and prevent further damage to the worker’s lungs.

 NIOSH recommends the use of half-facepiece particulate respirators with N95 or better filters for airborne exposures to crystalline silica at concentrations less than or equal to 0.5 mg/m3. The Occu­pational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also specifies the use of at least a 95-rated filter efficiency [29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.134]. The recommendation for a 95-rated filter efficiency reflects the improved filter efficiency of N95 filters over the earlier dust and mist (DM) filters. A comprehensive respirator program must be instituted prior to the use of 42 CFR 84 respirators. The requirements for a comprehensive respirator program are included in the OSHA respiratory protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134).

Monday, September 26, 2011, National Mesothelioma Awareness Day 2011, carries special meaning, because mesothelioma is a relatively rare form of cancer that strikes as many as 3,000 Americans each year. A common cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Victims tend to be electricians, plumbers, contractors, or armed forces veterans – anyone who worked with or around asbestos. The condition develops decades after exposure, but the disease can prove fatal within a year of diagnosis. At present, there is no cure.  Sadly, family members also often fall prey to mesothelioma as a result of secondary exposure to asbestos fibers carried into the home by the primary victim.  That’s why it is very important for the worker to shower and change clothes before leaving the worksite. 

This article wasn’t meant to be “long-winded,” however, we want employers and employees to realize the importance of well-planned and executed programs for respiratory protection.  (After all, science lessons are very important!)


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