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What is an Emergency Escape Breathing Device?

Posted on 21st November 2019

Ships are full of potential hazards which if not prepared for, could become death traps. Shipowners need to be extra vigilant with their safety equipment as the nature of ship construction facilitates the hazards more than the crew. Keeping water out of a ship means no holes to allow water in, which by default means no air holes either.

This is fine until you throw a fire or poisonous gases into the equation.

Since July 2002, it has been a requirement that all SOLAS ships have Emergency Escape Breathing Devices on board. This is to help ensure the safety of the passengers and crew should the ship’s environment become unsafe for any reason.

Emergency Escape Breathing Devices (EEBD’s) come into play when escaping from areas on the ship which have become hazardous – maybe due to smoke, fire or poisonous gases for instance.

EEBD’s are a mask and hood that provide the wearer with 10-15 minutes of oxygen and protection to their face and head when fleeing an area of the ship. As the name implies, it’s an emergency device. It’s only to be used when you have to immediately leave an area that has become dangerous or life-threatening.

It is designed to be used as part of your emergency procedures as 15 minutes of emergency assistance isn’t an eternity – in the throes of an emergency those 15 minutes are not very long but they can most definitely be the difference between life or death. An alarm will alert the wearer when there are 10 minutes of air left on the device, highlighting the need to escape promptly.

Okay, so now we know what it does and when it should be used, let’s look at what an EEBD is…

What Is An Emergency Escape Breathing Device?

Emergency Escape Breathing Devices (or EEBDs) are self-contained compressed air apparatuses which supply the crew with breathable oxygen to help them safely escape from contamination areas on a ship.

It should be noted that EEBD’s are NOT fire fighting equipment, nor should they ever be intended to be used by fire-fighters. They should never be used for any other purpose than providing vital, life-saving oxygen to passengers and crew in an emergency.

It all becomes a bit clearer once you know how they work – for a bit more insight, let’s look at what an EEBD is made up of.

What Is An Emergency Escape Breathing Device Made Up Of?

EEBD’s are comprised of the following components:

  • A Compressed Air Cylinder: The cylinder in an EEBD has approximately 600 litres of oxygen, providing you with at least 15 minutes of breathing time, giving you ample time to navigate the immediate danger and find safety.
  • Pressure Indicator: This tells you exactly how much breathing time remains in the EEBD, allowing you to plan your escape. There is also usually an alarm, indicating when the air is running low.
  • Face and Hood: As the names suggest, this is the part that attaches to the wearers face – the essential element that delivers the oxygen. The hood covers the face and helps protect the whole head when evacuating dangerous environments.
  • Visor: The front portion of the hood has a fire-proof visor, allowing you to clearly and easily see where you’re going and safely escape from even the most difficult and dangerous situations.

Emergency Escape Breathing Devices allow employees to escape from dangerous, smoke-filled areas of the ship, but they’re not only useful when navigating through the smoke. If you’ve flooded an area of the ship with CO2 – because you had to fight a fire for example – the EEBD can also be used when travelling through this CO2 area too.

You can see how vital these are, but also that the short term nature of oxygen doesn’t qualify them for life-saving equipment.

How Many Emergency Escape Breathing Devices Do I Need Onboard My Ship?

According to the SOLAS regulations, these are the requirements regarding your EEBD’s onboard:

Cargo Ships

In the accommodation spaces, there must be at least two EEBDs.

In the ships machinery spaces, the number can vary depending upon the arrangement and how many people work in there but there mustn’t be less than one EEBD at each exit plus one in the Engine Control Room.

Passenger Ships

Obviously, there is a different expectation here:

Where the ship carries more than 36 passengers there must be four EEBD’s in each main fire zone within the accommodation spaces.

Where the ship carries 36 passengers or less, there will need to be two EEBDs in each main fire zone within the accommodation spaces.

In the machinery spaces, the number required will depend upon the arrangement and how many people are working in there but it mustn’t be less than one EEBD at each exit plus one device in the Engine Control Room.

Spare EEBDs

There must also be spare devices located in a control station. The number required shall be half of the total devices required for the above requirements.

The criteria of the EEBD constitution is as follows:

  • They have a minimum service time of 10 minutes;
  • They are a supplied-air or oxygen type device;
  • They have a full facepiece or hood.

EEBD’s are relatively simple to use as the EEBD is designed to immediately start providing the wearer with oxygen – automatically. Being such a vital piece of equipment means that EEBD instruction should be part of any ships familiarisation training.

All of a ship’s personnel should be trained to immediately put on an EEBD before leaving an area where the atmosphere has become dangerous or potentially life-threatening.

Not only should the crew of a ship ensure they are fully conversant with how to operate EEBDs, but they should also ensure that EEBDs are stored in an appropriate place and clearly labelled.

If stored incorrectly, EEBDs may become inaccessible or hard to find. They may block vital passageways and exit points. If EEBDs are wrongly labelled, the crew won’t be able to locate them should they need them in an emergency and, when it comes to oxygen, every second counts.

This need for proper storage and labelling has been highlighted by UK Club Inspectors who have regularly seen EEBDs both wrongly positioned and wrongly marked on many vessels.

To help guide positioning, section 4.6 of the IMO MSC /Circular 849 states:

“Unless personnel are individually carrying EEBDs, consideration should be given for placing such devices along escape routes within the machinery spaces or at the foot of each escape ladder within the space.”

The same idea applies to accommodation spaces too – crew should make sure EEBDs are placed well inside the space and not close to any exits or doors, where they could hinder a swift exit.

The circular continues by stating that each Emergency Escape Breathing Device should:

  • have a duration of service of 10 min,
  • comprise a hood or full facepiece, as appropriate, to protect the eyes, nose and mouth during an escape. Hoods and face pieces should be constructed of flame-resistant materials, and include a clear window for viewing.
  • be capable of being carried hands-free (unactivated EEBD)
  • be suitably protected from the environment during storage.
  • have brief instructions or diagrams clearly illustrating its use.
  • be easy and quick to put on, allowing for situations where there is little time to seek safety from a hazardous atmosphere.

Regarding the labelling of EEBD’s – they should be marked as “EEBD”s, and  NOT as ELSAs (Emergency Life-Saving Appliances), as many still are.

EEBDs are vital, life-saving pieces of equipment on any ship, providing critical oxygen to both crew and passengers, but, to be effective, they need to be clearly labelled and stored correctly on the ship and the crew should all receive training on how they should be properly used.

You are also advised to check the expiry dates of the EEBD’s onboard as they are usually 10-15 years since the installation of the devices.

We are launching our very own Emergency Escape Breathing Device to complement our crew welfare portfolio. If you’d like more information on them, please register your interest here.