Breathing Air Testing

What is Breathing Air Testing?

Breathing air used in industries such as spray painting or confined spaces must comply with BS EN 12021:2014.

Testing this air quality, also known as compressed air quality testing, is needed to be sure that the air supplied to the employee is of good quality and does not contain any contaminants at levels that can harm the employee.

What contaminants are we searching for?

BS EN 12021:2014 specifies that air quality testing must be completed for contaminants including:

✅ Carbon monoxide (CO)

✅ Carbon dioxide (CO2)

✅ Oil mist

✅  Suitable oxygen levels (Approx. 20.9%)

✅ Water contamination (Dew Point).

✅ Odour and taste of the air supply.


How does the air get contaminated?

The air intake of a compressor may draw in Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide from an outside source. Carbon dioxide is an asphyxiant, and carbon monoxide is toxic because of the way it reacts with the blood.

✅  A failing air compressor pump or failing filtration can cause the oil in the airline. This oil gives rise to toxic volatile substances in the air.

✅ The compressed air quality testing measures the amount of oxygen in the air because a dryer malfunction can reduce the oxygen to an unsafe level.

✅  Water and dew point measurements are essential to prevent the condensation or freezing of water in the airline. This freezing could disrupt the supply of air to the user.

How often is breathing air testing required?

The HSE state there is a mandatory 3-month air quality test. This is based on the guidance that compressors and filters can fault or suffer loss of performance quickly.

If the breathing air lines are not frequently used, they will accept that they are tested before use.

All records of tests must be kept for 5 years. We will ensure robust safe documentation storage to meet this need as part of the service.

How much does the testing cost?

As a good indicator of industry costs, a good estimate will be between £50 and £150 per test.

The highest cost will be if you need one test for one unit at one site. This will be at a daily rate to include travel time and can be between £300 and £600.

Of course, this is not the most economical approach.

We typically suggest that we complete the full risk assessment, site visit for testing and repeat testing every 3 months for the first few months. This gives us a benchmark to review the risk assessment and see if there is justification based on risk to increase the testing frequency.

We would typically then agree a monthly cost for the whole coverage of as little as £100 per month

Breathing Air Testing Limits

The breathing air test aims to ensure appropriate controls are in place, for example inline filters, are delivering good quality air to the user.

The testing must meet the following results / limits:

✅ Oxygen must be at 21% ± 1%.

✅ Carbon monoxide must be as low as possible and must not exceed 5 ppm.

✅ Carbon dioxide must not exceed 500 ppm.

✅ Oil mist and vapour must not exceed 0.5 mg/m3.

✅ Odour/taste – No noticeable smell or taste

✅ Water (liquid) – 290 mg/m3 at 5 bar and 20o

The compressed air quality testing must also demonstrate that the dew point prevents condensation and freezing. In particular, the dew point of the air must be at least 5oC below the lowest temperature that the operators use and store the equipment. Furthermore, the pressure dew point must not exceed -11oC where the conditions of usage and storage are unknown.

A risk assessment is required to determine the frequency and risk posed to users. We complete a specific risk assessment for you as part of the test.

Orbis are committed to providing a full service. We are happy to complete testing, however we don’t stop there. We work with you to get whatever is needed fixed and we also include a full risk assessment, user checklist and keep all records for 5 years on a secure server that you can access.

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