NIOSH Reconsiders SCBA ‘Buddy Breather’ Policy

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is reevaluating its policy on emergency escape support breathing systems for self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and is soliciting opinions.


The issue was discussed at a NIOSH-sponsored public meeting Dec. 9 in Pittsburgh, and the deadline for submitting public comments is 5 p.m. on Jan. 30.


The policy dates back to Nov. 6, 1984 when manufacturers of respirators approved by NIOSH and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) were notified of it by letter.


“The use of any component, connected, interfaced or assembled in combination with MSHA/NIOSH-certified [SCBA] for use as an emergency escape support breathing system or ‘Buddy Breather’ to allow more than one individual access to the apparatus’ life support system(s) either directly or indirectly, automatically voids the applicable certification during its use,” the 1984 letter said. “Respirator manufacturers must not state in advertising or instructional literature, that use of such components is approved by MSHA/NIOSH.”


In reevaluating the policy now, NIOSH officials said they want to hear from stakeholders and manufacturers on a variety of points, including:

  • What, if any, research is needed to support rescinding, reaffirming or modifying the policy.
  • Recommendations on SCBA technology and performance enhancements that would improve user safety during the emergency use of a buddy-breathing device.
  • Opinions on minimum performance standard requirements and test procedures that could be used to evaluate an emergency escape support breathing system.

In publicizing their reconsideration of buddy-breathing, NIOSH officials noted that “this highly emotional issue” is addressed in the 2007 edition of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program. NFPA 1500 warns that buddy breathing in emergency situations could place the rescuer in grave danger.



NIOSH cited excerpts from NFPA 1500 to illustrate the concerns:

  • “Virtually all buddy breathing procedures require compromising the rescuer’s SCBA and, for this reason, cannot be condoned.”
  • “A key disadvantage in buddy breathing is that it is extremely difficult for two people to leave a hazardous atmosphere quickly while engaged in buddy breathing, simultaneously consuming air at a faster rate.”
  • “The risk of both victim and rescuer exhausting their air supplies is another scenario associated with buddy breathing. In this case, what starts out as a rescuer-victim relationship ends up a victim-victim relationship, as the shared air supply is exhausted before exiting is possible.”
  • “NFPA, ANSI (the American National Standards Institute), IAFF (the International Association of Fire Fighters), and most SCBA manufacturers do not recommend buddy breathing because it compromises one or more SCBA and can result in the needless impairment or death of either the rescuer, or the victim, or both.”

Comments on NIOSH’s reevaluation of its buddy-breathing policy may be faxed to the NIOSH Docket Office at 513-533-8285 or sent by mail to NIOSH Mailstop C-34, Robert A. Taft Lab, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226.



Comments may also be made by e-mail or by using an online form. The NIOSH contact person for technical information is Jonathan Szalajda, 412-386-6627, or email


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