August 30, 1990
The Directorate of Technical Support issues Hazard Information Bulletins (HIBs) in accordance with OSHA Instruction CPL 2.65 to provide relevant information regarding unrecognized or misunderstood safety and health hazards, and/or inadequacies of materials, devices, techniques and engineering controls. HIBs are initiated based on information provided by the field staff, studies, reports and concerns expressed by safety and health professionals, employers and the public. Information is compiled based on a comprehensive evaluation of available facts, literature and in coordination with appropriate parties. HIBs do not necessarily reflect OSHA policy.
The OSHA Health Response Team has brought to our attention a potential hazard for rescue personnel pertaining to collisions involving vehicles equipped with air bags. A local safety alert has been distributed in New Jersey on this subject. The alert overstates the potential hazards to rescue personnel by advising them to wait for 10 to 20 minutes before approaching deployed airbags and also warning of excessive steering column temperatures. These problems and others are explained in the enclosed Emergency Rescue Guidelines for Air Bag - Equipped Cars published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the Department of Transportation.
Air bags are inflated by nitrogen gas which is produced by the highly toxic chemical, sodium azide. However, the sodium azide is completely consumed by this reaction. After deflation of the bag some irritant dusts (including sodium hydroxide) are released. NHTSA advises that rescue personnel wear gloves and eye protection for this situation. However, there is no need to wait for 10 to 20 minutes for vehicle ventilation. Moreover, there is no evidence of excessive steering wheel temperature due to air bag deployment.
NHTSA does discuss a situation that could rescue personnel although it would be a rare occurrence. An undeployed air bag is not likely to deploy after a crash. Moreover, most incidents will not require rescue workers to work in what would be the deployment path of the air bag; so, rescue operations could begin without delay. When someone is pinned directly behind an air bag, special procedures should be followed.
To defeat electrically activated systems the battery cables must be cut. This begins the deactivation period for backup power systems. For some vehicles deactivation will occur in a matter of seconds, others take a few minutes. Until deactivation is complete, the steering wheel should not be displaced or cut. Moreover, heat should not be applied in the steering wheel hub area and the air bag module itself should not be cut.
Please distribute this bulletin to all Area Offices, State Plan States, and Consultation Projects.
EMERGENCY RESCUE GUIDELINES FOR AIR BAG-EQUIPPED CARS*
Incident with a Fire First use normal fire extinguishing procedures, then follow the rescue guidelines below.
Incident with a Deployed Air Bag
Use normal rescue procedures and equipment. Do not delay medical attention. DEPLOYED AIR BAGS ARE NOT DANGEROUS.
However, they do produce a dust that may cause minor skin or eye irritation which can be prevented by:
Incident with and Undeployed Air Bag
An undeployed air bag is unlikely to deploy after a crash. Most incidents will not require rescuers to work in what would be the deployment path of the air bag; therefore, rescue operation can begin without delay.
IN THOSE RARE INSTANCES WHEN SOMEONE IS PINNED DIRECTLY BEHIND AN UNDEPLOYED AIR BAG, SPECIAL PROCEDURES SHOULD BE FOLLOWED:
If your questions are not answered below, please contact the NHTSA Office of Occupant Protection, NTS-13, Washington, DC, 20590, or USFA Office of Firefighter Health and Safety, NETC, Emmitsburg, MD 21727.
AIR BAG-EQUIPPED CAR EMERGENCY RESCUE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q1 How does an air bag work:
Because air bags are designed to deploy only in frontal or near-frontal crashes-not in side, rear, or rollover crashes-it is possible that you will be involved in rescuing someone from a car with an air bag that did not deploy.
Q2 How do I identify a car equipped with an air bag?
If the bag did not deploy, several methods can be used. The steering when hub is large and rectangular, (about 6" by 9"). The large hub usually will be covered with a scored, soft plastic material. The words, "Supplemental Inflatable Restraint," "Air Bag," or initials such as "S.I.R.," or "SRS," may be embossed somewhere on the surface. In most cases, the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can be used to determine the presence of an air bag. Exhibit 1 show the codes used by the auto manufacturers.
Some manufacturers indicate the presence of an air bag system by placing placards under the hood and on the driver side windshield pillar.
If you cannot determine whether the car is equipped with an air bag, you should assume that it has one, particularly if it's a late model car, and follow the rescue guidelines for air bag cars.
Q3 Is smoke produced during deployment?
Q4 Is the air bag hot?
Q5 What about the powdery residue on and around the bag?
The same gloves and eye protection that rescuers would normally wear to protect themselves (from sharp metal edges, glass, or form bodily fluids) also will prevent any irritation to the skin or eyes resulting from the residue released during deployment. Thus, the potential for this type of exposure is not severe enough to warrant delaying rescue operations. Hands should be washed with mild soap and water after handling a deployed bag. Also, avoid rubbing your eyes, eating, or smoking after handling the bag until you have removed the gloves and washed your hands. Rescuers also should take care to avoid introducing the residue into the eyes, or any wounds of the patient. If the residue gets into the eyes, they should be flushed with water.
Q6 Is there any sodium azide in the residue? Is it harmful?
Q7 If an undeployed air bag module is somehow ruptured, what precautions should be taken?
Q8 Is the sodium azide canister likely to explode during a car fire?
Q9 If there is a fire in an air bag car, can water be used to extinguish it?
Q10 Is it all right to breathe the passenger compartment air after an air bag has deployed?
Q11 What has been the experience of crash test personnel in dealing with air bag-equipped cars?
Q12 If the air bag did not deploy in the crash, is it likely to deploy after the crash?
In most cases, rescue operations can proceed normally and without delay. In the unlikely event that a driver or passenger is pinned behind an undeployed air bag, it will be necessary to take special precautions (See Q 15).
Q13 If the air bag(s) did not deploy in the crash, can the system be deactivated?
Q14 Should rescuers wait for the system to be fully deactivated before proceeding with rescue operations?
Q15 What if someone is pinned behind a steering wheel or instrument panel with an undeployed air bag?
If the circumstances permit wait for the system to be fully deactivated before attempting to remove the victim, (see Q. 13 for deactivation procedures).
You need not wait to provide medical attention, so long as you do not place your body or any objects on the air bag module, or in what would be the deployment path of the air bag.
If the patient must be removed at once, extrication efforts should be performed from the side of the entrapped victim, and away from the potential deployment path of the air bag. Do not place your body or objects against the air bag module. Do not mechanically displace or cut through the steering column unless the air bag system has already been fully deactivated. At no time, should anyone drill into the air bag module or apply heat (above 300 degrees F) in the area of the steering wheel hub.
In the case of the mechanically activated system currently found only on 1990 Jaguar coupes and convertibles extreme care should be taken to avoid sharp halting impacts to the steering column, particularly in a forward or rearward direction. Cutting of the steering wheel rim or the column is permissible if the previously mentioned type of impacts can be avoided.
NOTE: Crashes that result in victims being pinned behind an undeployed air bag will be rare. NHTSA has not heard of such a case among the thousands of crashes documented to date. An unusual combination of circumstances for example, a direct side impact which buckled the floor upward beneath the victim, would have to be present to trap someone without deploying the air bag.
Q16 Occasionally we use damaged cars for rescue training purposes. The cars are scrapped after we finish the training. Should we take any precautions to prevent an unwanted deployment during training?
Vehicle Identification Number Codes for Driver- and Passenger-Side Air Bags
|MAKE||SERIES||MODEL YEARS||VIN POSITION||VIN VALUE||TYPE**|
|BENTLEY||1990||8||D or O||D|
|CHRYSLER||1988-90||4||X or Y||D|
|DODGE||1988-90||4||X or Y||D|
|PALLETTE COLLECT; XJ6 SOVER.; VDP, XJS||1990||5||W||D|
|XJ6 SOVER. VDP, XJS||1990||5||X||D/P|
|LEXUS||1990||8||E OR T||D|
|MERCEDES BENZ||1985-90||8||B OR D||D|
|PLYMOUTH||1988-90||4||X OR Y||D|
|PORSCHE||(UNABLE TO IDENTIFY BY VIN)|
|ROLLS ROYCE||1990||8||D OR O||D|
|SAAB 9000S||1988-89||8-Apr||CS55d; CS58D||D|
|Supra||1990||8-Apr||MA7OM; MA7ON;MA7IM; MA7IN||D|
|Celica GT||1990||8-Apr||ST87F; ST87N||D|
**D= Driver-side air bag
**D/P= Driver-side air bag and passenger side air bag
Deactivation Times for Air Bag Back-up Power Supply
|Rolls Royce||30 Minutes|
|VW (Audi)||10 Seconds|
***MY 1985-89 = 0; MY 1990 = 15 Minutes; MY 1991 = 1 minute if positive battery cable is shorted to
*Based on information provided to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by the automobile and air bag manufacturers, and coordinated with U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).
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