Spirometry is a common test to assess how well the lungs work, by measuring the volume of air that is inhaled and then exhaled, and the rate at which this occurs.
It is one of the most frequently performed tests carried out by medical practitioners as part of workplace medical examinations and employee health monitoring.
The process of exhaling during spirometry testing has the potential to spread droplets through the air. Medical practitioners undertaking spirometry tests are at risk of exposure to COVID-19 from airborne droplets if an infected person is tested, even if they have no obvious symptoms of COVID-19 infection.
Because of this risk, the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Respiratory Science Ltd (ANZSRS) have recommended postponing the spirometry component of medical examinations and health monitoring, unless clinically essential, until the COVID-19 pandemic has been controlled.
All other components of medical examinations and health monitoring will continue to be undertaken.
In some circumstances health monitoring or medical examinations are required under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations). Where necessary, this would normally include spirometry testing.
WorkSafe Victoria acknowledges the recommendation to postpone spirometry testing may impact on the tests that can be completed when undertaking health monitoring or medical examinations.
However, employers must continue to meet their duties to provide employees with the health monitoring or medical examinations that would normally be required under the following OHS Regulations:
- Regulation 169: Employers must ensure health monitoring is carried out for employees who are exposed to a scheduled hazardous substance (eg respirable crystalline silica and isocyanates).
- Regulations 262, 282 and 311: Employers must arrange for medical examinations for employees engaged in ongoing asbestos removal work (or asbestos related activities where the risk requires a medical examination) before the asbestos removal work commences for the first time, at intervals of not more than 2 years and within 30 days after the employee has ceased asbestos removal work.
Information about health monitoring and medical examination requirements
Employers must continue to meet their duties to provide employees with the health monitoring or medical examinations that would normally be required under the OHS Regulations.
Except in circumstances where undertaking spirometry testing is deemed clinically essential by a medical practitioner, any spirometry components of health monitoring or medical examinations should be postponed until the TSANZ and ANZSRS have determined that this testing can safely recommence.
When testing does recommence, employers should ensure that any spirometry tests that were postponed are undertaken by their employees as soon as possible.
WorkSafe Victoria will continue to monitor information provided by Chief Health Officer (DHHS), TSANZ and ANZSRS and will update duty holders and employees as the situation develops.