March 21, 2024

Proposed Rule Would Allow NIOSH Approval of Combination Unit Respirators

A new rule proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services would establish a new class of respiratory protective device—combination unit respirators, or CURs—and amend regulatory requirements that NIOSH uses to test and approve respirators. The Federal Register notice outlining the proposal explains that CURs “[employ] the technology of at least two different types of respiratory protective devices, with one being an open-circuit self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and at least one other method being air-purifying or powered air-purifying.” These devices are currently used in military, law enforcement, and some industrial settings. CURs are intended to protect users during entry into or escape from immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) environments, as well as during entry into non-IDLH environments and escape from non-IDLH or IDLH environments, depending on the operating mode selected by the wearer.

“A CUR allows the worker to carry or wear one respirator into an environment in which the hazards are either unknown or might change rapidly, and to readily switch between types of respiratory protection after assessing their individual risk,” the Federal Register states.

Current regulations do not allow NIOSH to approve CURs since they are single units within more than one respirator class. The proposed rule would establish performance standards for the agency to approve CURs by incorporating by reference the requirements in chapter 7 of the 2023 edition of NFPA 1987, Standard on Combination Unit Respirator Systems for Tactical and Technical Operations.

Further details can be found in the notice of proposed rulemaking.