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NIOSH Announces Criteria for Certifying Escape Respirators for Workplace Preparedness

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
October 20, 2003

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced criteria on October 8, 2003, that it will use under an expedited program to test and certify escape respirators for emergency preparedness in the workplace.

Escape respirators, also called escape hoods, are designed to protect users from breathing harmful gases, vapors, fumes, and dusts for a limited amount of time needed to reach fresh air.

Escape respirators that pass the full set of tests will be approved by NIOSH, allowing manufacturers to label the approved products as NIOSH-certified against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents in workplace escape emergencies.

NIOSH certification will help employers and users select escape respirators with greater confidence, while simultaneously driving the development of newer, more advanced devices. Partial funding for the development of the NIOSH certification standards was provided by the Department of Homeland Security, the National Institute of Justice, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology.

Escape respirators, which also are known as escape hoods, come in two types. One type, called a self contained escape respirator, consists of a hood with a tightly fitting neck piece and a contained source of breathing air. The hood provides a barrier against contaminated outside air, and the user breathes air from the attached source. In the other type, called an air purifying escape respirator, a filter canister is mounted on the hood. The user breathes outside air through the canister, which filters out harmful contaminants before the air is breathed.

On November 6, 2003, NIOSH will begin accepting applications to test and evaluate air-purifying respirators for use against CBRN agents. On January 2, 2004, NIOSH will begin accepting applications to test and evaluate self-contained escape respirators for use against CBRB agents.

“Escape respirator manufacturers and other stakeholders share NIOSH’s goal of ensuring that employers and employees have effective, reliable, and practical devices as part of their emergency preparedness programs,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “NIOSH appreciates the technical assistance offered by those partners, which allowed us to meet the demand for a certification program as quickly as possible, while ensuring that our testing criteria are stringent and practical.”

NIOSH approvals will be based on positive results from rigorous tests on sample units voluntarily submitted to NIOSH by manufacturers, and from stringent evaluation of manufacturers’ quality-control practices, technical specifications, and other documentation. Both types of escape respirators will be tested against the chemical warfare agents Sarin and mustard. Air purifying escape respirators also will be tested against 10 chemicals and a particulate that will represent a wider range of 139 chemical gases and vapors, biological particulates, and radiological and nuclear dust particles.

NIOSH developed the criteria with extensive advice and review by respirator manufacturers and other stakeholders, including other federal agencies, industry organizations, and labor representatives.

NIOSH contacted respirator manufacturers directly by letter to notify them of the new criteria for testing and certifying escape respirators. The letter and the NIOSH criteria are posted on the NIOSH web page at In addition, NIOSH will post the names and models of certified devices as soon as they are approved. The program to certify escape respirators for the general working population follows earlier NIOSH certification programs for self contained breathing apparatus and air purifying respirators used by emergency responders for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear exposures.

For further information about the certification program, visit the NIOSH web site at or call toll-free 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).