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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Occupational asthma; the limited role of air-fed respiratory protective equipment

Aslihan Ilgaz, Vicky C Moore, Alastair S Robertson, Gareth I Walters, P Sherwood Burge
Occupational Medicine 2019 August 22, 69 (5): 329-335
31269209

BACKGROUND: Evidence-based reviews have found that evidence for the efficacy of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) in the management of occupational asthma (OA) is lacking.

AIMS: To quantify the effectiveness of air-fed RPE in workers with sensitizer-induced OA exposed to metal-working fluid aerosols in a car engine and transmission manufacturing facility.

METHODS: All workers from an outbreak of metal-working fluid-induced OA who had continuing peak expiratory flow (PEF) evidence of sensitizer-induced OA after steam cleaning and replacement of all metal-working fluid were included. Workers kept 2-hourly PEF measurements at home and work, before and after a strictly enforced programme of RPE with air-fed respirators with charcoal filters. The area-between-curve (ABC) score from the Oasys plotter was used to assess the effectiveness of the RPE.

RESULTS: Twenty workers met the inclusion criteria. Records were kept for a mean of 24.6 day shifts and rest days before and 24.7 after the institution of RPE. The ABC score improved from 26.6 (SD 16.2) to 17.7 (SD 25.4) l/min/h (P > 0.05) post-RPE; however, work-related decline was <15 l/min/h in only 12 of 20 workers, despite increased asthma treatment in 5 workers.

CONCLUSIONS: Serial PEF measurements assessed with the ABC score from the Oasys system allowed quantification of the effect of RPE in sensitized workers. The RPE reduced falls in PEF associated with work exposure, but this was rarely complete. This study suggests that RPE use cannot be relied on to replace source control in workers with OA, and that monitoring post-RPE introduction is needed.

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