The Challenge of Harmonizing Respiratory Standards

NIOSH is heavily involved in the ISO standards now being developed and wants to educate U.S. stakeholders about them.

MONTREAL -- An Emerging Issues educational session at AIHce 2013 on May 22 illuminated the work being done on a worldwide series of standards for respiratory protection devices. The work being done by ISO/TC 94/SC 15 on the standards is not secret, but attendees at the session may not have known how far along they are and what obstacles remain. The session began with a presentation by Wolfgang Drews of Drager Safety in Lubeck, Germany, who chairs the technical committee working on the standards, and another presenter was Richard Metzler, a veteran NIOSH employee who was brought back on a part-time basis by the agency specifically to work on implementing these standards, in which NIOSH is heavily involved.

Metzler mentioned how slowly U.S. standards proceed, citing the years that have passed since the ANSI Z88 respiratory program standard was most recently updated. "I'm happy say we're very close to having a new draft," he reported. With progress limited at home, Metzler said, NIOSH leadership decided to look for international consensus standards that can be useful to U.S. stakeholders.

A third presenter, Dr. Eva F. Gudgin Dickson, adjunct associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Royal Military College of Canada, pointed out how harmonized international respiratory standards will benefit Canadian companies and end users. Canada currently has 14 or 15 jurisdictions, both provincial ones and a federal one, that vary widely in their standards, she explained. "There's obviously a lot of benefit to harmonized test methods . . . because right now, there's thousands of test method options," Dickson said.

Drews said the end result of the committee's work will be human factors-driven standards that provide one classification system for all respiratory protection devices so that end users can select the device that will protect the wearer at the metabolic rate demanded by the application. There will be six protection level classes and four work rates specified, and SCBAs will be marked according to their air-supplying capacity (e.g., 1600 liters). Specific applications noted in the markings on respirators will be firefighting, CBRN, mining, marine, abrasive blasting, welding, abnormal pressure, and escape, Drews explained.

He said the main draft international standard is on track to be released March 24, 2014, to be finalized Jan. 15, 2015, and to be published June 15, 2015. "The clear message is that the wearer should know the performance level of the RPDs" to get the right product for the application, he said, and end users will be able to use the standard to compare respiratory protective devices' performance.

Metzler said NIOSH wants to educate U.S. stakeholders about the committee's standards and other work product and to get U.S. stakeholders' input. NIOSH will hold public meetings, he said. As for differences between the current NIOSH respirator approval and respirator labeling process and the ISO approach, he explained that any ISO respirator class isn't limited to a specific amount of protection -- instead, it depends on how the respirators perform on total inward leakage tests. The technical committee is developing a fit testing program standard and a guide for small businesses, he said.

"Looks like we've got about two years to sort some of this stuff out," he added. "We know a massive review and educational process is needed."

The U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to the technical committee is administered by the National Personal Protective Technologies Laboratory (NPPTL) of NIOSH, with administrative support from the International Safety Equipment Association.

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