What the NIOSH Respirator Notice Means for SCBA

By Chris Mc Loone

Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) customers and manufacturers waiting for SCBA that meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1981, Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Emergency Services, (2013 ed.) and NFPA 1982, Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS), (2013 ed.) will have to wait a little bit longer before these products are available for purchase. On November 22, 2013 SCBA manufacturers received news from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of errors in chemical warfare agent (CWA) testing performed at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC)—errors that will delay approval for products being tested to comply with the 2013 editions of NFPA 1981 and 1982.

The NFPA has a variety of requirements before a manufacturer can put NFPA labeling on an SCBA. One of the requirements in place since the 2007 edition of NFPA 1981 is that an SCBA must have CBRN approval from NIOSH to be compliant with the standard. This CWA testing is a key component of that CBRN approval.

It is important to note that the testing in question relates to a respirator’s ability to protect against chemical warfare agents.

Nature of Errors
According to Jeff Emery, senior marketing manager, fire services for Scott Safety, the errors occurred over a 15 month period. During this time, ECBC tested equipment using concentrations of chemical warfare agents below the levels prescribed by NIOSH for CBRN testing. “So, essentially this is something that affected all manufacturers with products submitted for CWA testing and CBRN approvals over an extended period of time,” says Emery. Some of the products that were at ECBC during this time period were there to complete testing to meet the requirements for the 2013 Edition of NFPA 1981 and 1982 compliance. “NIOSH has notified customers that, in order to verify and validate that the affected products would meet these CBRN requirements, they are going to have to retest using the proper test protocols.”

What it Means to Fire Departments
Some fire departments are already impacted by this announcement. For example, some Scott Safety respirators that received approval during the 15-month testing period have already been delivered, and Scott is currently notifying customers of the use limitations. The NIOSH Respiratory User Notice, which can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/, informed the public that affected products “must not be used to provide protection against CWA [Chemical Warfare Agent] hazards”. However, it did indicate that “The affected respirator configurations will provide all of the non-CBRN protections for which the NIOSH approvals are issued.”

If departments have been waiting to purchase SCBA until those meeting the new NFPA standard are available, they are in for another delay. “We will not be able to receive our NFPA approvals until we have successfully completed CBRN retesting,” says Emery.

SCBA manufacturers originally expected to begin shipping NFPA 1981 SCBA compliant with the 2013 revision before August 31, 2013. However, the NFPA issued a Tentative Interim Agreement (TIA), effective September 15, 2013 based on delays in completing CBRN testing for the SCBA. The TIA allowed manufacturers to continue shipping SCBA manufactured to the 2007 revision of NFPA 1981 until February 28, 2014. The NFPA committee has initiated the process for a second TIA to extend the last ship date for the 2007 approved product.

NIOSH is working with ECBC to validate all test procedures, and they expect testing to begin in January 2014. As a result, approvals for the 2013 revision may not be issued prior to April 2014.

Manufacturers are working hard to ensure approved products make their way into the marketplace as quickly as possible. “We know that customers are very disappointed by this announcement, and I think all of us as manufacturers share that disappointment,” remarks Emery. “My disappointment stems from the fact that we have new products ready to go that add an increased level of protection and increased level of safety for firefighters, and it’s in our interest and the fire departments’ interests to get those to the market as quickly as possible. We’re working with NIOSH to find the best possible solution to speed that up and get products into our customers’ hands as quickly as possible so that they can have that increased level of protection.”

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