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OSHA Announces New Rules for Confined Spaces (Effective August 3, 2015)

5/15/2015

On May 4, 2015, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a new final rule in the Federal Register intended to increase protection for construction workers in confined spaces (e.g., manholes, crawl spaces, tanks and other confined spaces that are not intended for continuous occupancy).

This rule becomes effective on August 3, 2015 and is intended to match the rules currently in place in the general industry standards. There are five new requirements and several areas where OSHA clarified existing requirements.

The following is a summary of the new requirements for the construction industry:

  1. OSHA added detailed provisions requiring coordinated activities when multiple employers are present at a worksite. OSHA intends this new rule will ensure hazards are not introduced into a confined space by workers performing tasks outside the space.
  2. OSHA regulations will now require a competent person to evaluate the work site and identify confined spaces, including permit spaces, prior to commencing work.
  3. The new regulations will require continuous atmospheric monitoring whenever possible.
  4. Likewise, the new regulations will require continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards.
  5. Also, permits may be suspended, instead of cancelled, in the event the entry conditions listed on the permit change or an unexpected event requiring evacuation of the space takes place. Before re-entry, however, the space must be returned to the entry conditions listed on the permit.

As noted above, provisions were included to clarify existing requirements as set forth in the general industry standards. These clarifications include:

  1. Employers who direct workers to enter a space without using a complete permit system are required to prevent the workers’ exposure to physical hazards via methods that eliminate or isolate the hazards through methods such as lockout/tagout.
  2. Employers relying on local emergency services must arrange for those responders to give the employer advance notice if they will be unable to respond for a period of time (e.g., because the responders are handling another emergency, attending training, etc.).
  3. Employers are required to provide training to workers in a language and vocabulary that the worker understands.

Finally, several terms have been added to the “definitions” that are set out in the construction standards. For example, terms such as “entry employer” and “entry rescue” have been added to describe the employer who directs workers to enter a space and to clarify the differences in the types of rescue.