How technology helps drive automatic backup systems to enhance safety

The benefits of dual redundant regulators and Vibralert

When workers are in situations that are immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH), it’s extremely important to be able to rely on an automatic back-up system that will alert workers when there is a problem with their equipment.

Evaluating risk of equipment failure

Risk of equipment failing or malfunctioning can be evaluated by considering the following four elements:

  1. The likelihood that a problem will occur;
  2. The severity of the potential effect caused by the problem;
  3. The likelihood that the problem will be detected; and
  4. The controls that will prevent or minimize the problem from occurring.

Safety professionals regularly use this approach to evaluate the risk in equipment and processes, which is a technique referred to as failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA).

Dependability of SCBA and risk of failure

Modern self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) are highly dependable, as demonstrated by the expansive testing that they must endure in order to be certified to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1981 Standard. Certification to this standard addresses the above first element in risk evaluation, suggesting a very low likelihood of SCBA failure when the apparatus is properly used and maintained. However, extreme conditions and physical challenges may occur during emergency events which have the potential to create the risk of equipment malfunction or failure.

Considering the often dangerous environments in which SCBA are used in, these situations often present high severity of risk since the wearer’s life would be endangered should the SCBA malfunction. Because there is a low probability of risk but high severity in consequences, there is a need for detection and controls. This is why SCBA users need to be informed in the case of a malfunction and be able to mitigate the effects of such an issue in order to have time to escape from the dangerous situation.

Maximizing detection while minimizing the effect of malfunction

3M constructs all Scott Safety SCBA Air-Paks with unique engineering technology that was originally designed in collaboration with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for use on the International Space Station. As with space exploration equipment, firefighting gear benefits from redundancy in design.

This is why 3M™ Scott™ Air-Pak SCBAs utilize a Dual Redundant Pressure Reducer. This is a unique and patented design which allows the primary pressure reducer to automatically transfer to a back-up in the event of a low air pressure or mechanical malfunction. The secondary pressure-reducer helps enable the system to perform in a manner that is similar to normal operation while simultaneously alerting users to an issue.

How technology helps improve safety

This impressive piece of technology is a user-notification system called Vibralert. Vibralert is a unique and highly effective system that alerts users to an issue within their SCBA. Many competitive brands of SCBAs rely on a bell or whistle located at the wearer’s lower back to alert the wearer of a problem with the air delivery system. In loud or confusing situations where multiple SCBAs are in use, it can be difficult to hear the bell or determine whose bell is sounding. Further complicating the issue is that the air diverted from the air supply to drive the bell action is then wasted out in the environment, giving the wearer less time to get to safety.

The Vibralert on 3M™ Scott™ SCBAs is very different. It is actually a component of the mask-mounted regulator. When activated, it makes a distinct noise while also vibrating the wearer’s facepiece. This allows users to both hear and feel the alarm, even in loud or confusing situations. Knowing exactly whose alarm has activated allows that particular wearer to respond immediately and remove themselves from the hazardous area. The other main feature of the Vibralert is that the air used to drive the Vibralert flows into the mark-mounted regulator where it is available for the wearer to breathe.

Determining whether workers require an automatic backup in the main component of the air supply depends on the risk level of the work being done and how quickly a wearer will need to exit a hazardous environment.

If you have questions about completing a risk analysis or have questions about dual redundant regulators and Vibralert, please reach out via the form below.

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