OSHA Issues Confined Spaces Final Rule


By Roy Maurer May 6, 2015

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule May 1, 2015, to protect construction workers in confined spaces.

The standard provides construction workers with similar confined space protections as those in general industry, with some differences tailored to construction worksites.

People working in confined spaces can face life-threatening hazards including toxic substances, electrocution, explosions and asphyxiation, according to OSHA.

The agency defines confined spaces as work areas large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs but not necessarily designed for people. Confined spaces have limited or restricted means for entry or exit and are not designed for continuous occupancy. These work areas include tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, pits, manholes, tunnels, equipment housings, ductwork and pipelines.

Confined spaces that require permits contain or have the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere, material that could engulf a worker, a design which could trap or asphyxiate a worker, or any other recognized safety or health hazard, such as unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, or heat stress.

The final rule generally mirrors the 1993 general industry standard, according to OSHA.However, there are some modifications, including requiring continuous air monitoring of confined spaces, initial jobsite evaluation by a “competent person,” information-sharing among employers and coordination with rescue teams prior to entry. The construction standard makes the controlling contractor and not the host employer the central point of safety information exchange.

The final rule is the “culmination of decades of work by the agency,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels in a press teleconference. “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,” he said.

The agency pointed out that if a contractor is adhering to the construction rule, even if the project technically should fall under the general industry standard, then it won’t be cited. On the other hand, if contractors abide by the general industry standard when the construction rule applies, they will be penalized.

The standard takes effect Aug. 3, 2015. Compliance assistance material and additional information is available on OSHA’s Confined Spaces in Construction Web page.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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