7 FAQs: OSHA’s Final Rule for Confined Spaces
OSHA Rules and Regulations: Confined Spaces in Construction
On May 4, 2015, OSHA issued a new standard for construction work in confined spaces, which will be effective August 3, 2015. The new standard, Subpart AA of 29 CFR 1926, is intended to prevent construction workers from being hurt or killed by eliminating and isolating hazards in confined spaces at construction sites. OSHA has provided the following FAQs on the new rule:
1. What’s a confined space?
A confined space has:
- Limited means of entry and/or exit
- Is large enough for a worker to enter it
- Is not intended for regular/continuous occupancy
Examples include sewers, pits, crawl spaces, attics, boilers and many more.
2. What’s a permit-required confined space (permit space)?
A permit space is a confined space that may have a hazardous atmosphere, engulfment hazard or other serious hazard, such as exposed wiring, that can interfere with a worker’s ability to leave the space without assistance.
3. Can anyone work in a permit space?
Only workers who’ve been assigned and trained to work in a permit space may do so. Additionally, before workers can enter a permit space, the employer has to write a permit that specifies what safety measures must be taken and who’s allowed to go in.
4. I’ve been following the general industry rule. What’s new or different about the construction rule?
There are five key differences from the construction rule and several areas where OSHA has clarified existing requirements. The five new requirements include:
- More detailed provisions requiring coordinated activities when there are multiple employers at the worksite. This ensures hazards aren’t introduced into a confined space by workers performing tasks outside of 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.
- Requiring a competent person to evaluate the worksite and identify confined spaces, including permit spaces.
- Requiring continuous atmospheric monitoring whenever possible.
- 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 worksite could alert workers in the space at the first sign of the hazard, giving the workers time to evacuate the space safely.
- Allowing for the suspension of a permit, instead of cancellation, in the event of changes from the entry conditions listed 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.
5. How does the new final rule differ from the rules that previously applied to construction work performed in confined spaces?
The new rule requires employers to determine what kinds of spaces their workers are in, what hazards could be there, how those hazards should be made safe, what training workers should receive and how to rescue those workers if anything goes wrong.
6. If I hire a contractor (or subcontractor) to do work in a confined space, do I have any responsibilities?
Yes, controlling contractors and host employers must discuss spaces on the site and their hazards with entry employers and each other before and after entry.
7. Twenty-seven states and territories have their own OSHA-approved safety and health plans; will those states be required to adopt the new standard?
Yes, 22 states or territories currently operate their own OSHA-approved State Plans and five additional states and one territory (Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and the Virgin Islands) operate plans that cover state and local government employees only. State plans have and enforce their own occupational safety and health standards that are required to be at least as effective as OSHA’s. Many state plans adopt OSHA’s standards identically, but some state plans may have different or more stringent requirements.
Information on the new confined spaces standard can be found on the Confined Spaces page.
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