NIOSH Changes Closed-Circuit Escape Respirator Requirements

The new requirements for testing and certification become effective in 30 days, but manufactures can make and sell currently approved respirators for the next three years.

NIOSH published final rules March 8 updating its requirements for testing and certification of closed-circuit escape respirators, which are used by workers trying to escape from toxic concentrations of fumes, gases, or smoke or from confined areas where there is insufficient oxygen. The agency said the new rules reflect experience gained from field observations and reports by NIOSH and stakeholders, "including reports of widespread problems encountered with units in coal mine emergencies," as well as public comments and information from public meetings.

Published at www.federalregister.gov/articles/2012/03/08/2012-4691/approval-tests-and-standards-for-closed-circuit-escape-respirators, the rules are codified in a new Subpart O of 42 CFR Part 84, Approval of Respiratory Protective Devices, and will become effective in 30 days.

At that point, NIOSH will cease approvals under the existing requirements, but manufacturers can make and sell currently approved closed-circuit escape respirators during a three-year phase-in period during which they can modify their current designs or develop new ones.

A closed-circuit escape respirator (called a self-contained self rescuer in mining and also known as an emergency escape breathing device) is a mouthpiece connected by a breathing hose to a small container that supplies oxygen. Such devices are either carried on a worker's belt or stored nearby for emergency use. They are used by Navy and Coast Guard crews for emergency escape from confined work spaces below deck, according to NIOSH.

The new testing and certification requirements include:

  • Improved performance measures to ensure these respirators are reasonably rugged to withstand harsh environments
  • A new capacity-rating system in which devices will be tested and certified on the volume of usable oxygen they supply, rather than certified according to the length of time they were expected to provide oxygen
  • New design requirements allowing NIOSH to check units during field evaluations and determine whether harsh working conditions or harsh treatment have diminished their performance
  • More stringent verification during testing of the quality and quantity of breathing gas they supply, using a mechanical test rather than testing with human subjects

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