OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.

August 11, 2010

Mr. Ira Gurvitch
Elmridge Protection Products
6615 W. Boynton Beach Blvd.
Suite 320
Boynton Beach, FL 33437

Dear Mr. Gurvitch:

Thank you for your letters of April 28 and July 31, 2009, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requesting clarification of OSHA's policy on the use of smoke escape hoods. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question not delineated in your original correspondence.

In your letter you ask if allowing workers to use smoke-escape hoods only for their escape during an unlikely workplace fire incident would be a violation of OSHA's Respiratory Protection standard (the Standard), 29 CFR 1910.134. That determination depends on the specific working conditions involved.

When OSHA or an employer requires the use of respirators under the Standard, the employer is required to select NIOSH-certified respirators. NIOSH has approved a number of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear agents (CBRN) respirators in recent years; however, they have not certified any escape hoods designed solely for escape from [fire/]smoke. As you note in your letter, the consensus standard, "American National Standard for Air-Purifying Respirator Protective Smoke Escape Devices (ANSI/ISEA 110-2009)," provides guidance for performance requirements and testing procedures for "air-purifying respiratory protective smoke escape devices for the immediate emergency evacuation without entry/re-entry of adult civilians." In fact, this ANSI-ISEA standard specifies minimum criteria for the design, performance, testing, and certification of air-purifying respiratory-protective devices with a laboratory-tested 15-minute service life. While such devices provide head, eye, and respiratory protection from particulate matter, irritants, and toxic gases and vapors commonly produced by fire, the devices do not provide protection from oxygen-deficient atmospheres, a common result of fires. Escape hoods/masks may be used only for escape, and not used for purposes that would delay a safe exit from the building. OSHA regulations would prohibit the use of such smoke-escape hoods by workers required to respond to a fire incident, or to remain in the area in the event of an incident.

When neither the Standard nor the employer requires workers to use a respirator, the Standard in Appendix D still strongly encourages the selection of NIOSH-certified respirators to protect against the contaminant of concern. Employers permitting (i.e., not requiring) workers to use smoke hoods for escape would still be required under paragraph (c)(2) of the Standard to establish and implement those respirator program elements necessary for the proper use of these escape masks. Accordingly, employers must include these elements in a written program that will ensure that use of the respirator will not in itself create a hazard to employees, and provide each employee with the information contained in Appendix D of the Standard. The program must ensure that the employee is medically able to use the respirator, and that the respirator is clean, stored, and maintained so that its use does not present a health hazard to the employee. The manufacturer's instructions on storing and maintaining escape respirators should always be followed. Some individuals may have difficulty wearing an escape hood; for example, those individuals who are pregnant, elderly, or who have pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions. These individuals should be pre-identified as part of the overall workplace emergency response and preparedness plan. Alternative arrangements for emergency escape should be planned for these individuals that accommodate these conditions. For example, the employer might consider a "buddy system" in which co-workers agree to assist those individuals in an evacuation.

Training is necessary to ensure that the respirator itself does not become a hazard. Even when respirator use is voluntary, it is essential that workers are trained in the proper use of their escape masks, and the limitations in the use of the escape masks (e.g., these masks do not supply clean breathing air, so their use in a fire or other oxygen-deficient atmosphere might not provide the necessary protection). Lack of training may give some employees a false sense of security (for example, making them think they can linger in the area). Training should include the opportunity to actually wear the escape mask. Training should be provided annually. Employees also need to know the location of their masks and how to access them. If the masks are kept in an inaccessible location, it may be more effective to quickly retreat without the mask.

OSHA does not approve, endorse, or recommend any particular manufactured product. The final determination of compliance with OSHA's standards must take into account all factors pertaining to the use of such a product at a particular worksite with respect to employee safety and health, including an evaluation, through direct observation, of employee work practices and all conditions of use in the workplace. Therefore, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, only the employer is responsible for compliance with the Act and for the safe use of any product by their employees.

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190.

Sincerely,

Thomas Galassi, Acting Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs

[Correction 11/5/2015]