Selecting Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus for Industrial Plants
Don’t let your industrial fires get out of hand—or happen at all. Here are some factors to consider.
When we think of major fires in industry, we undoubtedly picture large-scale explosions and flammable events. These are usually the result of hydrocarbon and solvent spills or fires that, when not extinguished via the use of fixed suppression systems (sprinklers, etc.), require the mobilization of large-scale, high-flow water monitors and foam application systems. If these types of fires are not controlled adequately, they can certainly create devastation on a massive scale.
However, most fire responses to industrial facilities are not on this scale. Although large-scale hydrocarbon and solvent fires can create spectacular visuals, it is preferable to extinguish these blazes over time and from a distance using the appropriate equipment. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the following facts are noted regarding emergency response at industrial properties1:
- Between 2011 and 2015, municipal fire departments in the U.S. responded to an estimated average of 37,910 fires at industrial or manufacturing properties each year, with annual losses from these fires estimated at 16 civilian deaths, 273 civilian injures, and $1.2 billion in direct property damage.
- The vast majority of fires (71 percent) in industrial and manufacturing properties were outside or unclassified fires, which accounted for an estimated average of three civilian deaths, 38 civilian injuries, and $265 million in direct property damage each year.
- Vehicle fires accounted for an estimated average of nine percent of industrial and manufacturing property fires) each year, with losses estimated at 6 civilian deaths, 17 civilian injuries and $125 million in direct property damage each year.
Of note above is that despite most fires being “outside or unclassified,” a disproportionate number of civilian deaths and injuries resulted from structure fires on industrial sites. Structure fires present specific risk whether on an industrial site or in the community. The risks of rescue, containment and extinguishment in structures are well documented elsewhere. For purposes of this article, the focus here will be on some of the recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) for both the industrial fire brigade personnel as well as responding municipal fire departments.
Industrial and manufacturing facilities can present many safety hazards for workers on a daily basis. From the risk of abrasions, contusions and cuts to the need for head, hearing, eye and face protection as well as respiratory hazards requiring varying degrees of respiratory protection, workers need various types of PPE to help avoid injury on the job.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) certifies and lists numerous variants of disposable and reusable respirators in half and full-face versions for use with purifying cartridges and filters in both negative pressure and powered air versions. These types of respiratory protection devices provide assigned protection factors (APF) from 10 to 1000 and protect workers around the globe every day. However, for respiratory hazards that exceed the capabilities of a filter that require higher APF, industrial workers must look to more elaborate, positive-pressure demand systems like open- and closed-circuit, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) that provide an air source integrated to the set and can provide APF up to 10,000 with properly fitted facepieces.2
Although all modern SCBA are made up of the same five basic components (backframe and harness, primary pressure reducer, secondary pressure regulator, cylinder and facepiece), they can differ greatly depending on the specific work environment in which the model is destined to be used. As with the air-purifying respirators noted above, NIOSH is the primary regulatory and certification agency for SCBA. SCBA must be submitted for evaluation of compliance with the requirements of Title 42 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 84.
In addition to this certification, in June 2002, in conjunction with NFPA SCBA approvals, NIOSH issued the first approvals for SCBA for emergency workers in terrorist attacks and included evaluations against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear exposures (CBRN). Some SCBA also maintain certification to NFPA standards such as NFPA 1981: Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services, NFPA 1982: Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS) or NFPA 1986: Standard on Respiratory Protection Equipment for Tactical and Technical Operations.
These additional standards require specific design and performance enhancements to the basic SCBA including, but not limited to:
- Specific end of service time indicator (EOSTI) setting
- Higher heat resistance of the facepiece lens
- Enhanced ability to communicate while wearing the respirator
Additionally, certain optional accessories available to the fire service are governed by complementary NFPA standards, such as NFPA 1983: Standard on Life Safety Rope and Equipment for Emergency Services and certain accessories like Emergency Breathing Safety Systems (EBSS) have both design and performance criteria as part of the NFPA 1981 standard.
So, which makes, models and accessories should an industrial fire brigade be looking at for on-site protection from hazards and firefighting activities? Well, this truly depends on the site risk assessment and the potential for the industrial brigade to be involved in structure fire suppression or rescue operations calling for capability beyond respiratory protection from chemical hazards. A variety of materials and optional accessories are available, and some are noted in the following examples.
“Industrial” SCBA— NIOSH 42 CFR, Part 84 Approval Only
Most manufacturers of SCBA will list a model that conforms to this general description and certifications. Some of the important options to look for and questions to ask depending on intended use are:
- Are the harness materials fire retardant or not (polyester, nylon, etc.)?
- Does the SCBA have electronic components?
- Will the facepiece allow use of cartridges and filters to limit inventory and fit testing requirements for a separate make/model of facepiece?
- Does the SCBA require overhaul maintenance or just annual functional flow tests?
Within the range of SCBA marketed as suitable for industrial applications other than firefighting, there are a variety of materials that bring the user different benefits. Some SCBA have fabric backframe and harnesses for reduced weight, enhanced comfort and ease of laundering. Others provide more robust aluminum frames that can handle dirty environments like the oil and gas sector and do not absorb contaminants as easily as fabric versions.
Industrial Firefighting SCBA
If exterior firefighting and interface with municipal fire departments is a need, but full-blown structural firefighting activities like rescue operations and interior nozzle attack are not within scope, then some additional options are available. Some manufacturers offer versions of their SCBA, approved to the NFPA standards, in a lighter-duty version without electronics and make some of the other NFPA mechanical accessories optional on a NIOSH-approved set suitable for use in environments where heat and flame may be present and other fire PPE such as bunker gear are worn. Some of the features one should look for are:
- Does the SCBA use the same pneumatics as an NFPAcertified set?
- Do the pneumatics offer built-in back-up systems for air path integrity or use filters?
- Are the following features available as options?
- Rapid Intervention Universal Air Connection (RIC/UAC)3
- Extended airline connection for breathing off an external air source
- Emergency breathing support system (EBSS)
- Communication accessories
Structural Firefighting SCBA Sets
If risk analysis determines that interior structural attack or direct interface with the responding municipal fire department is required, it is recommended that the industrial brigade consider a SCBA ensemble fully certified to the current editions of the NFPA 1981 standard and equipped with an integrated PASS device certified to the NFPA 1982 standard. SCBA such as these will have all the required accessories as standard components of the manufacturer’s part number:
- RIC/UAC fitting for emergency air transfer
- Pneumatic data logging of events
- High-heat resistant facepiece
Optional accessories may include:
- Universal EBSS air connection for low pressure emergency rescue or for use as an airline extension for confined space rescue
- Integrated telemetry systems that relay air and alarm status remotely and allow two-way non-verbal wireless communication between the SCBA and a base station software connected to an antenna
- Integrated thermal imaging for hands-free search & rescue operations for confined space rescue Integrated firefighter self-rescue systems (bail-out)
- Communication accessories for voice amplification and wireless radio interface
SCBA certified to the NFPA 1986 standard are recent additions and can offer a more streamlined version of the NFPA 1981 standard SCBA above. They will incorporate the firefighting resistance of an SCBA certified to the NFPA 1981 standard as well as the resistance to CBRN contaminants.
Whatever your site risk analysis reveals, and whichever model is chosen, it is essential to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for use and ongoing maintenance and service. The NFPA 1852 (Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of OpenCircuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) requires that SCBA be functionally tested on a breathing machine annually. For SCBA only approved to the NIOSH standard, the requirement is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Most manufacturers will require a functional test frequency on a breathing machine of no more than two years.
It is also vitally important that you ensure your internal service department or contracted service provider use only original approved parts from the manufacturer. The use of non-approved parts for repair or the use of after-market, non-branded4 and some refurbished cylinders will void all certifications the SCBA holds and potentially expose the user to harm and the owner to undue liability.
SCBA offers a high level of protection from a variety of respiratory hazards. Once the need for your workers to wear SCBA is established, it is suggested that further risk analysis be completed to determine the specific model that will best suit your working environment as well as your available budget. Make sure you invest in SCBA from a manufacturer who can help you select the right PPE for your industrial needs and who has a trusted reputation for developing quality, certified products.
1 “Fires in Industrial and Manufacturing Properties, National Fire Protection Association, 2018”
2 https://www.3m.com/3M/en_US/safety-centers-of-expertise-us/ respiratory-protection/fit-testing/
3 Rapid Intervention Connection/Universal Air Connection – Universal high-pressure airline fitting used in conjunction with external air sources to supply emergency air replenishment to a SCBA cylinder
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.