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Protective Breathing Apparatus Limitations Back to SCBA


Protective Breathing Apparatus Limitations

To operate effectively, the firefighter must be aware of the limitations of protective breathing apparatus. These include limitations of the wearer, equipment, and air supply.

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Limitation of Wearer

Several factors affect the firefighter's ability to use SCBA effectively. These factors include physical, medical, and mental limitations.
  • Physical
    Physical condition
    The wearer must be in sound physical condition in order to maximize the work that can be performed and to stretch the air supply as far as possible.
    Wearing a protective breathing apparatus restricts the wearer's movements and affects his balance. Good agility will help overcome these obstacles.
    Facial features
    The shape and contour of the face affects the wearer's ability to get a good facepiece-to-face seal.

    One issue of frequent debate is the use of contact lenses while wearing a protective breathing apparatus facepiece. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard for respiratory protection, 29 CFR 1910.134, prohibits firefighters from wearing contact lenses while using a respirator. However, this regulation has been repeatedly challenged by users.

    Based on the results of an OSHA-funded research project assessing the hazards associated with the wearing of contact lenses with full-facepiece respirators and the review of other reports and studies, OSHA has adopted a policy that states:

    Violations of the respirator standard involving the use of rigid gas-permeable or soft (hydrophilic) contact lenses with any type of respirator shall be characterized as de minimis. A violation is characterized as de minimis if it has no direct or immediate relationship to employee safety or health. Citations are not issued for de minimis violations, and there is no monetary penalty or requirement for abatement.
    NOTE: This policy does not apply to hard, nonpermeable lenses.
    NFPA 1500 allows the firefighter to wear soft contact lenses while using SCBA if the firefighter has demonstrated successful long-term (at least 6 months) use of contact lenses without any problems.
  • Medical
    Neurological functioning
    Good motor coordination is necessary for operating in protective breathing equipment. The firefighter must be of sound mind to handle emergency situations that may arise.
    Muscular / skeletal condition
    The firefighter must have the physical strength and size required to wear the protective equipment and to perform necessary tasks.
    Cardiovascular conditioning
    Poor cardiovascular conditioning can result in heart attacks, strokes, or other related problems during strenuous activity.
    Respiratory functioning
    Proper respiratory functioning will maximize the wearer's operation time in a selfcontained breathing apparatus.
  • Mental

    Adequate training in equipment use The firefighter must be knowledgeable in every aspect of protective breathing apparatus use.

    The firefighter's belief in his ability will have an extremely positive overall effect on the actions that are performed.
    Emotional stability
    The ability to maintain control in an excited or high stress environment will reduce the chances of a serious mistake being made.

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Limitation of Equipment

In addition to being concerned about the limitations of the wearer, firefighters must also be cognizant of the limitations of the equipment.
    Limited visibility
    The facepiece reduces peripheral vision, and facepiece fogging can reduce overall vision.
    Decreased ability to communicate
    The facepiece hinders voice communication.
    Increased weight
    The protective breathing equipment adds 25 to 35 pounds (11 kg to 16 kg) of weight to the firefighter, depending on the model.
    Decreased mobility
    The increase in weight and the splinting effect of the harness straps reduce the firefighter's mobility

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Limitation of Air Supply

Air supply is another factor to consider when discussing protective breathing apparatus limitations. Some limitations are based on the apparatus user whereas others are based on the actual supply of air in the cylinder.
    Physical condition of user
    The poorer the firefighter's physical condition, the faster the air supply is expended.
    Degree of physical exertion
    The higher the physical exertion, the faster the air supply is expended.
    Emotional stability of user
    The firefighter who becomes excited increases respiratory rate and uses air faster than a calm firefighter.
    Condition of apparatus
    Minor leaks and poor adjustment of regulators result in excess air loss.
    Cylinder pressure before use
    If the cylinder is not filled to capacity, the amount of working time is reduced proportionately.
    Training and experience of user
    Properly trained and highly experienced personnel are able to draw the maximum air supply from a cylinder.

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