January 14, 2021

NIOSH Fact Sheet Examines Potential Hazard Related to SCBA

A new fact sheet (PDF) released by NIOSH discusses a potential hazard associated with the rapid filling of compressed breathing air cylinders. The fact sheet is part of a series titled “Personal Protective Equipment Conformity Assessment Studies and Evaluations Notes” or “PPE CASE Notes,” which aims to inform respirator users about common themes or trends identified by NIOSH through processes related to agency-approved respirators. The potential hazard described in the new document was identified by NIOSH’s Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program (FFFIPP), which tracks issues regarding self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). FFFIPP found that the practice of rapidly filling—also known as “hot filling”—compressed breathing air cylinders can result in lower operating pressures after the compressed air cools. This decreases the amount of breathing air for firefighters using the cylinders if they are not properly topped off.

NIOSH’s fact sheet describes best practices for the use of SCBA cylinders, which include filling cylinders to the proper operating pressure and at the proper fill rate according to manufacturers’ guidelines. NIOSH also advises fire departments to ensure that personnel know SCBA and compressor manufacturers’ guidance regarding the hazards of overfilling a cylinder; develop and use standard operating procedures for achieving full breathing air capacity; and ensure that all compressor and cascade system operators are properly trained and qualified per manufacturer guidelines and departmental respiratory protection programs.

More information can be found on NIOSH’s website and in a previous AIHA news article announcing the PPE CASE Notes series.