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OSHA Issues Final Rule on Confined Spaces in Construction

May 6 2015

OSHA earlier this month issued a final rule on confined spaces in construction. All provisions of the rule will go into effect August 3, 2015.

Check out OSHA’s webpage on the new standard.

Download the complete final rule in PDF format here.

OSHA has been working on the confined spaces standard for over 20 years. In 2007 it issued a proposed rule that many in the construction industry found confusing, so the following year OSHA requested additional comments and continued working on the rule. The standard unveiled on May 1 is essentially the same as the general industry standard – but with a few minor tweaks.

According to OSHA’s Frequently Asked Questions page on the new standard, there are five new requirements and several areas where OSHA has clarified existing requirements. The five new requirements include:

  1. More detailed provisions requiring coordinated activities when there are multiple employers at the worksite. This will ensure hazards are not introduced into a confined space by workers performing tasks outside the space. An example would be a generator running near the entrance of a confined space causing a buildup of carbon monoxide within the space.

  2. Requiring a competent person to evaluate the work site and identify confined spaces, including permit space
  3. Requiring continuous atmospheric monitoring whenever possible.

  4. Requiring continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards. For example, when workers are performing work in a storm sewer, a storm upstream from the workers could cause flash flooding. An electronic sensor or observer posted upstream from the work site could alert workers in the space at the first sign of the hazard, giving the workers time to evacuate the space safely.
  5. Allowing for the suspension of a permit, instead of cancellation, in the event of changes from the entry conditions list on the permit or an unexpected event requiring evacuation of the space. The space must be returned to the entry conditions listed on the permit before re-entry.

In addition, OSHA has added provisions to the new rule that clarifies existing requirements in the General Industry standard. These include:

  1. Requiring that employers who direct workers to enter a space without using a complete permit system prevent workers’ exposure to physical hazards through elimination of the hazard or isolation methods such as lockout/tagout.
  2. Requiring that employers who are relying on local emergency services for emergency services arrange for responders to give the employer advance notice if they will be unable to respond for a period of time (because they are responding to another emergency, attending department-wide training, etc.).
  3. Requiring employers to provide training in a language and vocabulary that the worker understands.

Finally, several terms have been added to the definitions for the construction rule, such as “entry employer” to describe the employer who directs workers to enter a space, and “entry rescue” added to clarify the differences in the types of rescue employers can use.

“This rule will save lives of construction workers,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, Dr. David Michaels. “Unlike most general industry worksites, construction sites are continually evolving, with the number and characteristics of confined spaces changing as work progresses. This rule emphasizes training, continuous worksite evaluation and communication requirements to further protect workers’ safety and health.”

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