OSHA Final Rule on Confined Spaces in Construction

Two decades in the making, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is expected to make a final rule regarding confined spaces in construction. The final rule is expected to be issued in July and came about as a result of a settlement agreement in 1993 between OSHA and the United Steelworkers of America that required OSHA to publish a proposed standard on confined spaces in the construction industry.

Photo courtesy of NAVFAC

Photo courtesy of NAVFAC

OSHA published standards for confined spaces in general industry back in 1993 but did not include construction citing the “unique characteristics of construction worksites.” OSHA estimates that the new standards would reduce the number of fatalities and injuries involving confined spaces by 90%.

A confined space is defined as being a space large enough to enter with limited or restricted means of egress or entry which is not designed for continuous occupancies. A few examples of confined spaces common at construction sites include elevator pits, manholes, water storage tanks, boilers and transformer vaults. The new rule would require employers to determine if there are existing or potential hazards in the confined space. The employer would then have to assign one of four classifications to the confined space based on the atmospheric and physical hazards found. The classifications are Isolated-Hazard Confined Space, Controlled-Atmosphere Confined Space, Permit-Required Confined Space and Continuous System-Permit-Required Confined Space.

There are a number of requirements in the proposed confined spaces in construction standard that are duplicated from or similar to the general industry standard. So why not just adopt the just adopt the general industry standard for construction? OSHA cited a number of reasons for adopting stricter guidelines including higher employee turnover, employees working at multiple worksites on short-term tasks as well as changing conditions in confined spaces as work progresses.

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Photo courtesy of NAVFAC

There are a number of key differences between the proposed construction standard and the general industry standard. The general industry standard only requires the host employer to coordinate entry into confined spaces only if they have employees working the space in addition to the contractors’ employees. The construction standard requires the controlling contractor to coordinate entry between all contractors.

The new construction standard also allows for an Isolated-Hazard Confined Space to be established by either isolating or eliminating the atmospheric and physical hazards and the general industry standard doesn’t address this at all. When working in a Controlled-Atmosphere Confined Space, continuous monitoring is required in the construction standard. In the general industry standard monitoring is required as necessary. Also, when working in a Permit-Required Confined Space the general industry standard doesn’t require conditions to be monitored during entry. In the construction standard it is required that the entry supervisor monitor conditions during entry.

As mentioned before, OSHA is scheduled to make their final rule sometime in July. Once the final rule is made, it must be published in the Federal Register along with the date the new rule will take effect.

To learn more about the proposed rule and confined spaces in construction you can visit the OSHA website at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/confinedspaces/construction.html.

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