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Breathing Air Quality Testing

It is a legal requirement for all relevant UK employers to conduct breathing air quality tests to ensure the safety of their employees. In the UK, EN12021 advises that samples should be taken and analysed at least every three months or more frequently if there has been a change in, or any concerns relating to, the production process.

The importance of breathing air quality testing

In the HSE guideline document Respiratory Equipment at Work (HSG53) it states the frequency of such tests should be based on a risk assessment, should take place at least every three months and more often when the quality of air cannot be assured to these levels.

For mobile breathing-air compressors, COSHH strongly recommends that for mobile compressors the air quality is tested whenever the unit is first moved into a new position or if prevailing wind conditions change.

What are the legal requirements around breathing air testing?

EN12021:2014 is now the standard to indicate contaminant levels for breathing air both in the UK and in the EU expressed as “in any event all contaminants shall be kept to as low a level as possible and shall be below the national exposure limit“, but the following guide may help employers to know the specific regulations as they apply to a variety of industry requirements:

  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/3242) – requires a safe working environment by the application of risk assessment procedures. 
  • The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 (SI 2002/1144) Schedule − refers to the design and manufacturer of respiratory protective equipment. 
  • The Work in Compressed Air Regulations 1996 (SI 1996/1656) − these regulations deal with those aspects where the user is operating in a pressure higher than atmospheric, e.g. tunnelling. 
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 (SI 2002/2677 − also as amended by S.I. 2004 No. 3386 in respect of the term "workplace exposure limit") − these regulations identify the maximum exposure limits for a defined list of contaminants which may be present in a workplace atmosphere. 

The exposure limits are now identified by the single term "workplace exposure limit (WEL)" which encompasses both long- and short-term exposure. Related to COSHH is a reference listing published annually under the identity EH40 "Occupational Exposure Limits". The listings are in addition to those in COSHH. Where any doubt exists as to the limits for any contaminant then this should be used as a start point.

Industrial Air