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Confined Space SCBA Protection Guide

confined space SCBA


Confined spaces are often home to hazardous atmospheres, including oxygen deficiency and dangerous concentrations of gasses. In addition, they present an immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) atmosphere. Therefore, appropriate respiratory protection is vital to ensuring worker protection. 

Here’s everything you need to know to keep your workers safe in confined spaces with a hazardous environment: 

Choosing the Appropriate Respiratory Protection

Once you have analyzed a confined space atmosphere, you should select the proper respiratory protection for all confined space entrants. Recommended respirators for confined spaces include:

  • Confined space SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus)
  • Air-purifying respirators
  • Dual-purpose SCBA
  • Escape respirators
  • Combination of airline respirators with escape cylinder

Since these devices vary in design, protective capability, and application, one needs to assess their worksite contaminant levels and stay updated with respiratory protection device limitations to select the right option. In addition, some of these respirators can be used for different hazardous atmospheres, but when conditions reach oxygen deficiency or IDLH levels, you will require the highest levels of protection. 

Self-contained breathing apparatus only offer this level of protection in a confined space. This apparatus is equipped with air cylinders that a user can wear to access dependable but limited air supply without needing tethers or hose lines that might restrict their movement. 

SCBA Components & Requirements

Significant SCBA components include an air cylinder, a regulator, a low-pressure warning device, a face piece, and a carrier and harness assembly. An SCBA is handy for confined spaces with entrances that easily accommodate an entrant wearing an SCBA and its cylinder. For tighter confined spaces, you can get a low-profile cylinder. An entrant should never be exposed to a hazardous atmosphere without SCBA equipment. 

OSHA requires workers to use SCBA to combine pressure-demand airline respirators with escape cylinders for entering confined spaces with IDLH environments. When carrying the latter, a worker cannot use the escape cylinder for entry and must use the airline as the primary air source because the cylinder is for escape only. 

For a combination airline apparatus and self-contained breathing apparatus, Grade D breathing air is regulated down from higher pressures for delivery to the facepiece. Pressure demand respirators consistently maintain a slight positive pressure to the facepiece to avoid inward contaminant leakage.  

A self-contained breathing apparatus is available in 2216 or 3000 psi (low-pressure) and 4500 or 5500 psi (high-pressure) units. With a high-pressure device, an SCBA can select cylinders that can last for 30, 40, and 60 minutes. 30-minute-rated cylinders are commonly used with low-pressure SCBA. 

Ideally, workers should look for an industrial confined space SCBA that offers National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) respiratory protection and unmatched comfort. In addition, it should be lightweight and feature a chemical-resistant harness with cylinder options so that workers can match their apparatus to their work.  

Inspections & Tests for Confined Space SCBA 

Before using an SCBA in confined spaces, workers must perform basic inspections and functional tests. These include visually inspecting the self-contained breathing apparatus components, including the lenses, straps, and airline hose. It will ensure that there is no damage, wear, etc., and the air cylinder is full. 

Inspections should also include functional tests to check that the buckles actually buckle, the self-contained breathing apparatus does not leak, and the regulators and warning devices activate when required. These inspections typically do not require the use of specialized equipment. NFPA, OSHA, and SCBA manufacturers specify what a self-contained breathing apparatus inspection should include. 

Apart from the basic inspection, you should also perform a flow test. Also known as a performance test, a flow test ensures that an SCBA performs according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Unlike functional testing and fundamental inspections, flow testing demands the use of specialized equipment known as a breathing machine.

NFPA 1852 mentions the criteria a breathing machine should meet, including the tests it needs to perform and the exact curve of the breathing rates. For an easy, instant analysis, the flow test results need to be graphical or numerical. SCBA testing is typically used as a synonym for a flow test.

Frequency of SCBA Tests 

OSHA advises you should inspect your SCBAs before every use, when cleaning them, and at least every month. According to NFPA 1852, your workers should inspect their designated self-contained breathing apparatus at the beginning of their shift. For SCBAs not assigned to specific workers, the inspection interval should never be more than one week. 

Moreover, many SCBA manufacturers recommend that your SCBA should be inspected before and after every use, although the recommendation for infrequently used apparatuses varies. These are all minimum requirements, but you should follow them since they will keep your workers safe when on the job and prevent the need for dangerous confined space rescue

OSHA does not have a specification for the frequency of flow testing. In fact, the words “flow testing” do not appear in its code. With that said, the NFPA and SCBA manufacturers recommend performing at least one flow test every year. Moreover, NFPA 1852 states that you must flow test new SCBA before allowing your workers to use it. It also states that you should test it after repairing or rebuilding it.

Frequent flow testing can keep you from facing SCBA problems in confined spaces. It will also help you become aware of problems that might arise due to repeated exposure to water, chemicals, and extreme temperatures. 

Confined Space Air Monitoring

Before using SCBA to enter a confined space, you should perform a remote entry test. It requires testing the internal atmosphere with a calibrated direct-reading instrument. This test enables you to read oxygen content and check potential toxic air contaminants. Ideally, you should use this pre-entry or remote test to ensure comprehensive confined space air monitoring for all confined spaces. 

DCS provides all the necessary SCBA apparatus and the required planning documentation to fulfill regulatory requirements associated with confined space rescue services and SCBA. Reach out to us today!