What are Aspiration Hazards in the Workplace

Aspiration Hazards

Aspiration hazard is any substance that has the potential to enter the trachea and lower respiratory system through the oral or nasal cavity during inspiration (breathing-in) causing asphyxiation, injury, or negative health effects.

There are different categories of aspiration hazards, ranked according to their level of toxicity and range in severity from mildly dangerous to fatal.

Categories of Aspiration Hazards

Category 1: Chemicals known to cause human aspiration toxicity hazards or to be regarded as if they cause human aspiration toxicity hazardA substance shall be classified in Category 1:

(a) If reliable and good quality human evidence indicates that it causes aspiration toxicity; or

(b) If it is a hydrocarbon and has a kinematic viscosity ≤ 20.5 mm2/s, measured at 40°C. Examples of substances included in Category 1 are certain hydrocarbons, turpentine and pine oil

Category 2: Chemicals which cause concern owing to the presumption that they cause human aspiration toxicity hazardOn the basis of existing animal studies and expert judgment that takes into account surface tension, water solubility, boiling point, and volatility, substances, other than those classified in Category 1, which have a kinematic viscosity ≤14 mm2/s, measured at 40 °C.

Examples of chemicals in this category: n-primary alcohols with a composition of at least 3 carbon atoms but not more than 13; isobutyl alcohol, and ketones with a composition of no more than 13 carbon atoms.


Is Aspiration Hazard a Physical Hazard?

Aspiration hazard is not a form of physical hazard but a health hazard. Health hazards are chemical, physical or biological factors in our environment that can have negative impacts on our short- or long-term health. Exposure can occur through touch, inhalation, and ingestion. Understanding the risks of these hazards can help us to take action to avoid or mitigate these risks.

How to Prevent / Manage Aspiration Hazards

Here are ten tips to prevent or manage aspiration hazards:

  1. Ensure that individuals who are at risk of aspiration are positioned upright during feeding to reduce the likelihood of food or liquid entering the airway.
  2. For individuals with swallowing difficulties, thickening liquids to a consistency that is easier to swallow can help prevent aspiration. Consult with a healthcare professional for guidance on appropriate thickening agents and consistencies.
  3. Work with a healthcare professional, such as a speech-language pathologist or dietitian, to develop a modified diet that is safe for individuals at risk of aspiration. This may involve adjusting food textures or avoiding certain types of foods that pose a higher risk.
  4. Encourage smaller, more frequent meals to reduce the risk of aspiration. Larger meals can increase the likelihood of choking or aspiration, especially for individuals with swallowing difficulties.
  5. Ensure that individuals at risk of aspiration are supervised during meals, especially if they have difficulty swallowing or are prone to choking. This supervision can help prevent aspiration accidents and allow for prompt assistance if needed.
  6. Encourage proper chewing and swallowing techniques, such as taking small bites, chewing food thoroughly, and swallowing completely before taking another bite. This can help prevent food from entering the airway prematurely.
  7. Minimize distractions during meals to help individuals focus on eating and swallowing safely. Turn off the TV, put away electronic devices, and create a calm environment conducive to mindful eating.
  8. Maintain good oral hygiene to prevent oral health issues that can increase the risk of aspiration. This includes regular brushing and flossing, as well as routine dental check-ups.
  9. Consider enrolling individuals with swallowing difficulties in speech therapy sessions. Speech-language pathologists can provide exercises and techniques to improve swallowing function and reduce the risk of aspiration.
  10. Be prepared to respond to aspiration emergencies by knowing the signs and symptoms of aspiration, such as coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing, and knowing how to administer first aid, including the Heimlich maneuver if necessary. Ensure that caregivers and family members are also trained in emergency procedures.

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