Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)

A self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) usually consists of a facepiece connected by a hose and a regulator to an air source (compressed air, compressed oxygen, or an oxygen-generating chemical) carried by the wearer. Only positive-pressure SCBAs are recommended for entry into atmospheres that are immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH). SCBAs offer protection against most types and levels of airborne contaminants. However, the duration of the air supply is an important planning factor in SCBA use. This is limited by the amount of air carried and its rate of consumption.


Also, SCBAs are bulky and heavy, thus they increase the likelihood of heat stress and may impair movement in confined spaces. Generally, only workers handling hazardous materials or operating in contaminated zones require SCBAs. Under MSHA regulations in 30 CFR Part 11.70(a), SCBAs may be approved (1) for escape only, or (2) for both entry into and escape from a hazardous atmosphere. The types of SCBAs and their relative advantages and disadvantages are described in our HAZWOPER training. Escape-only SCBAs are frequently continuous-flow devices with hoods that can be donned to provide immediate emergency protection. Employers should provide and ensure that employees carry an escape SCBA where such emergency protection may be necessary. Entry-and-escape SCBA respirators give workers untethered access to nearly all portions of the worksite, but decrease worker mobility, particularly in confined areas, due to both the bulk and weight of the units. Their use is particularly advisable when dealing with unidentified and unquantified airborne contaminants.

There are two types of entry-and-escape SCBAs: (1) open- circuit and (2) closed-circuit. In an open-circuit SCBA, air is exhaled directly into the ambient atmosphere. In a closed-circuit SCBA, exhaled air is recycled by removing the carbon dioxide with an alkaline scrubber and by replenishing the consumed oxygen with oxygen from a solid, liquid, or gaseous source As required by MSHA/NIOSH 30 CFR Part 11.80, all compressed breathing gas cylinders must meet minimum U.S. Department of Transportation requirements for interstate shipment. (For further information, see 49 CFR Parts 173 and 178.) All compressed air, compressed oxygen, liquid air, and liquid oxygen used for respiration shall be of high purity and must meet all requirements of OSHA 29 CFR Part 1910.134(d). In addition, breathing air must meet or exceed the requirements of Grade D breathing air as specified in the Compressed Gas Association pamphlet G-7.1 and ANSI Z86.1-1973.

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