Risk of MSA SavOx units catching fire if the wearer does not follow start up procedures

Health and Safety Executive - Safety alert

Department Name:
Specialised Industries Division – Mines Inspectorate

Bulletin No:
SID 1-2012

Issue Date:
13 June 2012

Target Audience:
Mines; Construction, Utilities & Docks

Key Issues:
An MSA SavOx oxygen self rescuer caught fire after being worn in an underground emergency evacuation.


SavOx self rescuer unit shown on persons belt
SavOx self rescuer unit shown on persons belt

MSA SavOx oxygen self rescuer units have been sold for over a decade and are widely used in mines and civil tunnelling.

The unit contains a chemical canister and when the unit is worn the user's breathing triggers a chemical reaction which produces oxygen. A by-product of this chemical reaction is heat.

The SavOx units are fitted with a starter mechanism which is designed to provide immediate oxygen and boost the start up reaction when the units are operated in low temperatures. This starter mechanism should be initiated by stretching the flexible breathing tube prior to inserting the mouthpiece.


Burnt breathing bag and scorched KO2 chemical canister
Picture shows burnt breathing bag and scorched KO2 chemical canister

Following a large emission of gas in a 2000m long coal mine development (tunnel) workers donned their SavOx oxygen rescuers to evacuate the affected area.

On reaching fresh air they removed their rescuers and laid them on the floor. Approximately 10 minutes later one of the team picked up one of the used rescuers by the mouthpiece and a 'popping' sound was heard. The rescuer began smoking from around the exhale valve and then burst into flames. The flames were quickly extinguished and no persons were injured.

Photograph of the remnants of the Savox unit that was involved in the incident
Photograph of the remnants of the Savox unit that was involved in the incident

It appears that the wearer had not triggered the starter when he put on the rescuer and when the used rescuer was picked up by the breathing tube the starter was activated. The unit was already hot and this supply of additional oxygen led to the fire.

The incident does not appear to be an individual manufacturing defect and further investigation is being undertaken.

Action required:

Ensure that all users of Savox units are trained and have been assessed to be competent in the use of the unit and, in particular, understand the importance of following the correct start up procedure.

Relevant legal references:

  • Health and Safety at Work etc Act (1974)
  • Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, Regulation 9
  • Escape and Rescue from Mines Regulations 1995, Regulation 10



Further information:

Specialised Industries Division
HM Inspectorate of Mines
Foundry House
3 Millsands
Riverside Exchange
S3 8NH

Tel: +44 (0) 114 291 2390 or see

General note:

Please pass this information to a colleague who may have this Product/ Equipment or operate this type of system/process.

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