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OSHA Interpretation of Emergency Respirators

This past year has seen a substantial number of Oregon OSHA inspections at both city and special district fire agencies. All these inspections have had a common component related to the agency’s respiratory protection program, and specifically, the inspection processes of SCBA systems.  

Several agencies received citations for “failing to follow the manufacturer recommendations” regarding their SCBA. On January 1, 2024, the monetary penalties levied by Oregon OSHA increased significantly as we have explained in previous newsletters. Due to these inspections and citations, Sr. Risk Management Consultant for Public Safety Jason Jantzi asked Oregon OSHA’s technical standards section with questions. The response that we received back from Oregon OSHA places a heavy burden on all districts but most notably on volunteers and districts with smaller staff.  

In our letter to Oregon OSHA, we identified two areas of inquiry related to 29 CFR 1910.134 (h) (3), the Inspection of Respirators.  First, are SCBAs and other respirators provided to emergency service personnel to be inspected under the rules for “routine situations” paragraph A, or for “emergency situations” paragraph B? Second, what is the minimum standard for the inspection of SCBAs?  

The Oregon OSHA rules require at least a monthly inspection as a minimum and “in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations”.  In this case, what does the phrase “in accordance with” mean? Our fire district members are being told that they must follow all the instructions contained in the owner’s manual. We asked, “Is it just the procedures laid out in that document, or does it include the timelines?”  

At the time, we looked specifically at the MSA G1 SCBA; due to the Oregon OSHA citations, other manufacturers have unique requirements that districts must consider as well. MSA recommends that “the SCBA is inspected upon receipt, daily, and after cleaning and use” (emphasis added). We are concerned that a volunteer district, a little used substation, or a reserve apparatus will be able to comply with the requirements for a daily inspection.  

SDAO received answers to our questions; the relevant portion is reproduced here: 

In regards to your first question, regarding the inspection schedule for SCBAs used by emergency responders, while Oregon OSHA recognizes that emergency personnel use equipment designed for emergency situations on a regular basis, the circumstances in which this equipment is used are still effectively emergency situations. Oregon OSHA will still look at these devices as such and the inspection expectations under (h)(3)(i)(B), which states, “All respirators maintained for use in emergency situations shall be inspected at least monthly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, and shall be checked for proper function before and after each use”.   

You asked about a potential conflict when the manufacturer has an inspection schedule that exceeds the minimum requirement of the rule. Oregon OSHA does not view this as a conflict, as the rule already recognizes that the best source of information for how to properly use and maintain a device comes from the manufacturer of that device. The instructions from the manufacturer are not in conflict with our rules as long as they meet the minimum requirements of the rule. Based on the information you’ve provided, the manufacturer of the device in question has done that, and there is nothing that prohibits a manufacturer from providing instructions that exceed the minimum requirements of the rule. The only occasion in which we may agree that there could be a conflict is if a manufacturer had provided instructions that do not meet the minimum expectations of the rule, such as if they only require inspection semiannually instead of monthly.  

You also asked about the meaning of the phrase “in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations,” asking whether it is the procedures or the timelines in order to follow those procedures. It is both, as they both are recommendations by the manufacturer. (emphasis added) In regards to if a safety and health professional can create an inspection program for these devices, they absolutely can, as long as they ensure that the manufacturer’s recommendations are incorporated into that program, including procedures and timelines. Also, although it is not necessarily an Oregon OSHA issue, maintaining equipment in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations can also provide liability coverage should there be any issues with the equipment itself.  

In regards to your request that Oregon OSHA establish a minimum outline for inspecting SCBA equipment, the rule already establishes a minimum, but that minimum also recognizes that the recommendations from the manufacturers of the equipment is the best source of information for how to use and maintain that equipment. If you believe that the manufacturer’s recommendations are too onerous for your departments, you may want to discuss that with the manufacturers. 

SDAO Risk Management believes your district may risk a significant financial loss from citations that include possible monetary penalties between $11,000 to over $250,000 if you do not follow all the manufacturer’s recommendations including their published timelines. This is funding that comes directly from your operating budget and would reduce your ability to provide service to your patrons. If you are not able to fully follow these recommendations, we believe you must consider removing these SCBA and other respirators from your apparatus and find alternative means to protect your firefighters, such as only performing exterior fire attack from a safe location. If your district concludes this action is appropriate based on your circumstances, we suggest your board discuss this at a public meeting to provide your community information about this decision. If your board has additional questions about that process, we recommend contacting your local general counsel.  

For additional facts about this issue or any other risk management concerns, please contact SDAO’s Risk Management Department at