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May 05, 2015
OSHA publishes final rule on confined spaces in construction

OSHA has issued its new rule for confined spaces in construction, which will cover employers with employees working at construction sites with one or more confined spaces.

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The rule takes effect August 3, 2015.

Newly regulated construction sites will include buildings, highways, bridges, tunnels, utility lines, and other types of projects. Potentially affected employers include general contractors, as well as specialty-trade construction contractors and employers engaged in some types of residential construction work.  

It includes requirements for training, identification and assessment of confined spaces, hazard analysis, entering, working, exiting, and rescue for confined spaces containing a variety of different hazards.

The new rule, which provides construction workers safeguards similar to those in place for manufacturing and general industry, could protect 800 workers a year from serious injuries and reduce life-threatening hazards according to OSHA.

Although construction workers must often enter confined spaces like manholes, crawl spaces, and tanks, these areas are not intended for continuous occupancy. They are also difficult to exit in an emergency. OSHA says these workers face life-threatening hazards including toxic substances, electrocutions, explosions, and asphyxiations.

New rule differs from existing confined space standards
The new rule differs in several ways from current confined space regulations. For example, it includes a requirement that multiple employers share vital safety information and continuously monitor hazards. OSHA says these advancements are possible due to technological improvements that were not available when the manufacturing and general industry rules were created.

Explained OSHA administrator 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.” The standard emphasizes training, continuous worksite evaluation, and communication requirements.

Employers should also note that under the new rule, crawl spaces and attics can be both confined spaces and permit-required confined spaces. For example, working in an attic and applying a large amount of spray foam in a short time can expose a worker to low oxygen levels or a hazardous atmosphere. As well, changes to the entry/exit, ease of exit, and airflow could create a confined space or cause the space to become permit-required.

OSHA’s construction confined space rule highlights
OSHA’s construction standard for confined spaces, 29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA, affects spaces that meet these criteria:

  • Are large enough for a worker to enter.
  • Have limited means of entry or exit.
  • Are not designed for continuous occupancy.

A location may also be a permit-required confined space if it has a hazardous atmosphere, the potential for engulfment or suffocation, a layout that may trap a worker, or any other serious safety or health hazards.

Included in the rule are several requirements for safe entry. Before workers can enter a confined space employers must take pre-entry planning steps including:  

  • Have a competent person evaluate the site for the presence of confined spaces, including permit-required ones.
  • Once the space is classified as a permit-required confined space, identify the means of entry and exit, proper ventilation methods, and elimination or control of all potential hazards in the space.
  • Ensure before workers enter that the air in a confined space is tested for oxygen levels, flammable and toxic substances, and stratified atmospheres.
  • If a permit is required for the space, remove or control hazards in the space and determine rescue procedures and necessary equipment.
  • If the air in a space is not safe for workers, ventilate or use necessary controls or protections so that employees can work safely.

Get additional information about the new rule at https://www.osha.gov/confinedspaces/index.html

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