Air compressors have many industrial uses, one of which is to supply breathing air to those working in industries where the air around them is contaminated or lacking in oxygen.
These can include:
- Asbestos removal workers at risk from airborne particles
- Those working with chemicals that are dangerous if inhaled, for example, pesticides, solvents or spray paints
- Workers in environments where there is insufficient oxygen, such as small spaces underground
- Those at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning
- Workers who might be exposed to fungal spores or bacteria
Why test breathing air?
As anyone who runs a compressor will know, over time the air inside can become contaminated with dust particles, oil or water. This is why we recommend regular servicing of air compressors to ensure they are working at maximum efficiency and to guard against breakdowns.
In the case of breathing air, the risks are higher, as this is air that is taken directly into a person’s lungs from a portable air compressor. Any contamination could be extremely harmful to health, which is why the regulations are so stringent.
Indeed the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (SI 2002/2677) is in place to safeguard workers working in risky environments, including regulations for breathing air.
What are employers required to do?
There are several rules, regulations and recommendations for employers responsible for workers in hazardous environments.
- Offering the required training and supervision of their employees using breathing air equipment
- Ensuring equipment is suitable and correctly fitted, in particular face masks
- Testing the air supply of breathing air equipment at least every three months
- Testing the Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) every month if used regularly and every three months if used less frequently
- Making a record of test results, to be kept for five years
What is breathing air being tested for?
Breathing air can be contaminated by a variety of solid or liquid particles, including water, oil and dust. It’s also important to be aware that contaminants can be more harmful when combined.
By law, breathing air should meet at least the minimum requirements of BS EN 12021, which says that any contaminants in breathing air should be kept at a minimum, and not at levels that could cause toxic or harmful effects.
How are breathing air tests carried out?
There are three main ways recommended in government guidelines:
- simple colour change tubes
- on-line gas testers
- sample collection for laboratory analysis
What else might require checking?
Anyone using an air compressor for breathing air should ensure that no contaminated air can enter the system through the air inlet. The air compressor filters, whether for gas or vapour, should also be regularly checked and replaced when necessary.
In conclusion, breathing air tests are an essential part of routine maintenance for the responsible employer, to ensure that their workers are not exposed to any contaminents that could cause toxic or other harmful effects.