OSHA Issues Final Rule to Increase Protections Afforded to Construction Workers in Confined Spaces

Working in confined spaces exposes construction workers to many hazards, including asphyxiation, explosions, electrocutions and toxic substances. Until recently OSHA had one provision in its construction standards setting forth a general training requirement when employees worked in confined spaces. This provision (29 CFR 1926.21(b)(6)) provided limited guidance, instructing employers to train employees as to the nature of the hazards involved, the necessary precautions to be taken and in the use of required protective emergency equipment.

On May 1, 2015, OSHA announced a new “final rule” which provides a comprehensive standard that includes a permit program designed to protect employees from exposure to many hazards associated with work in confined spaces, including atmospheric and physical standards. The final rule is similar in content and organization to the general industry confined spaces standard, but also incorporates several provisions that address construction-specific hazards, accounts for advancements in technology and improves enforceability of the requirements.

The more comprehensive approach of the final rule includes provisions for: identifying confined spaces and the hazards they may contain; allowing employers to organize the work to avoid entry into a potentially hazardous space; removing hazards prior to entry to avoid employee exposure; restricting entry through a permit system where employers cannot remove the hazard; providing appropriate testing and equipment when entry is required, and arranging for rescue services to remove entrants from a confined space when necessary.

The final rule affects several sectors of the construction industry, including work involving buildings, highways, bridges, tunnels, utility lines and other types of projects.

Compliance assistance material and additional information is available on OSHA’s Confined Spaces in Construction Web page.

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