April 25, 2019

New Rule Allows Indefinite Manufacture of Closed-Circuit Escape Respirators Used in Mining

The Department of Health and Human Services published a final rule in the Federal Register on April 19 that permits respirator manufacturers to continue to sell an older type of closed-circuit escape respirator to meet the needs of the mining industry. The rule targets self-contained self-rescuers, or SCSRs, which, like CCERs, are used to escape atmospheres that are immediately dangerous to life and health. As explained in the Federal Register notice, SCSRs and CCERs are essentially two generations of the same respirator type.

MSHA requires mine operators in the United States to supply NIOSH-approved respirators to miners whenever use of respirators is required. The approval requirements for SCSRs are described in 42 C.F.R. Part 84, subpart H. In 2012, NIOSH determined that advances in CCER performance and reliability warranted phasing out SCSRs. The agency notified manufacturers that they could no longer manufacture or sell SCSRs after April 9, 2015.

But manufacturers struggled to develop enough CCERs to meet the demand, particularly in the underground mining industry. Following an extension of the April 2015 deadline and discussions among NIOSH, MSHA, and respirator manufacturers, NIOSH determined that removing restrictions on manufacturers' abilities to manufacture, label, or sell subpart H SCSRs is necessary for the safety of underground coal miners who rely on these devices. The final rule allows the continued, indefinite manufacturing, labeling, and sale of subpart H SCSRs with current certificates of approval. No new approvals under subpart H will be issued.

For a full explanation of the regulatory history of the final rule, read the text of the proposed rule published in October 2018.