OSHA'S New Rule Increases Protection to Construction Workers in Confined Spaces

Last month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) added a new rule that provides increased protections to those working in confined spaces on construction projects.  The new rule, which goes into effect on August 3, 2015, applies to manholes, crawl spaces, tanks and other confined spaces not intended for continuous occupancy that are located on construction projects.  OSHA predicts that the new rule will prevent approximately 780 serious injuries and 5 deaths each year.

Confined spaces are defined as those that (1) are large enough for an employee to enter; (2) have limited means of entry or exit; and (3) are not designed for continuous occupancy.  The rule provides construction workers in confined spaces with the same protections already afforded to workers in manufacturing and general industry but differs in several construction-specific respects.  “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,” according to Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

The new rule requires a “competent person” to initially evaluate the project site and identify all confined spaces.  Employers must then train their employees on the existence, location and dangers posed by each confined space.  Workers not authorized to perform entry rescues must also be trained on the dangers of attempting such rescues.  Employers are further required to coordinate with emergency services before workers enter certain confined space.  After this pre-entry planning is conducted, employers must continually monitor the confined space for air contaminant and engulfment hazards.

Communication is heavily emphasized in the new rule.  Because multiple contractors are likely present on a project site, each with its own workers needing to enter the confined space, contractors are required to coordinate and share safety information with each other.  The controlling contractor, such as the general contractor, is responsible for ensuring compliance with the new rule by its subcontractors and visitors to the project site.

Contractors who have employees or subcontractors working in confined spaces should familiarize themselves with the new rule’s requirements and immediately start implementing them.  Significant fine and citations can be issued for each violation of the new rule.  Additional information and compliance assistance materials are available on OSHA’s Confined Spaces website.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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