What You Need to Know About OSHA’s New Confined Space Rule

Entrapments, asphyxiation and explosions are just a few of the hazards construction workers face when they enter condenser pits, manholes, ventilation ducts, tanks, sumps and other confined spaces. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created its new confined space rule for the construction industry to protect workers from those hazards. OSHA estimates that the rule, which was effective August 3, could protect nearly 800 workers a year from serious injuries.

What is a confined space?
A confined space is a space large enough for a worker to enter, but it is not designed for continuous employee occupancy, and it has limited means for entry and exit.

What is a permit-required confined space?

Click on the image to visit our Work Safe, Texas site and watch a short video about confined spaces.

Click on the image to visit our Work Safe, Texas site and watch a short video about confined spaces.

A permit-required confined space 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. Only workers who have 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 to be taken and who is allowed to go in.

How is the new rule different from the general industry rule?
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. The rule is based largely on its general industry counterpart, with a few key differences.

The five new requirements include:

  1. More detailed provisions requiring coordinated activities when there are multiple employers at the worksite. This will ensure hazards are not introduced into a confined space by workers performing tasks outside 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.
  2. Requiring a competent person to evaluate the work site and identify confined spaces, including permit spaces.
  3. Requiring continuous atmospheric monitoring whenever possible.
  4. 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 work site could alert workers in the space at the first sign of the hazard, giving the workers time to evacuate the space safely.
  5. 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.

In addition, OSHA has added provisions to the new rule that clarifies existing requirements in the general industry standard:

  1. Requiring that employers who direct workers to enter a space without using a complete permit system prevent workers’ exposure to physical hazards through elimination of the hazard or isolation methods such as lockout/tagout.
  2. Requiring that employers who are relying on local emergency services arrange for responders to give the employer advance notice if they will be unable to respond for a period of time (because they are responding to another emergency, attending department-wide training, etc.).
  3. Requiring employers to provide training in a language and vocabulary that the worker understands.

Key takeaways for workers:

  • Do not enter permit-required confined spaces without being trained and without having a permit to enter.
  • Review, understand and follow your employer’s procedures before entering permit-required confined spaces, and know how and when to exit.
  • Use fall protection, rescue, air-monitoring, ventilation, lighting and communication equipment according to entry procedures.
  • Maintain contact at all times with a trained attendant visually, by phone or by two-way radio.

More information
For more information about the new confined space rule for the construction industry, visit OSHA’s website.

Note: Texas Mutual Insurance Company offers this information as general guidance. The company does not represent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), nor do its employees speak on OSHA’s behalf. For specific guidance, contact your local OSHA field office.

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