OSHA Issues Construction Confined Spaces Rule

OSHA today proposed a rule governing construction workers' entry into confined spaces. The rule fills about 75 pages of the Federal Register and has been at least 14 years in the making; it would require construction employers to classify each confined space in one of four categories -- Continuous System-Permit-Required Confined Space, Permit-Required Confined Space, Controlled-Atmosphere Confined Space, Isolated-Hazard Confined Space -- and monitor or restrict entry accordingly. Comments are due by Jan. 28, 2008.

In the rule, OSHA estimates about 20,000 businesses currently have employees entering at least one confined space covered by the proposed rule. There are an estimated annual total of 641,000 confined spaces, about half of which would be considered permit-required confined spaces under the rule, the agency said. OSHA estimates there are 6.44 worker fatalities and 967 injuries per year among this employee group, and the proposed standard would prevent six deaths and 880 injuries annually if implemented properly -- a 90 percent improvement.

Multi-employer worksites are common in construction, and OSHA's application of its standards to these situations have vexed the industry. This proposed standard would require the controlling contractor to coordinate entry by all contractors on a job site whose employees are entering confined spaces, even if that controlling contractor does not have employees of its own entering a confined space.

The rule defines a Continuous System-Permit-Required Confined Space as a confined space that is a part of, and contiguous with, a larger confined space (for example, sewers) that the employer cannot isolate from the larger confined space and that is subject to a potential hazard release from the larger confined space that would overwhelm personal protective equipment and/or hazard controls, resulting in a hazard that is immediately dangerous to life and health. The rule includes this classification "to ensure that the employer recognizes that, as the construction industry has recognized, there are difficulties associated with isolating the hazards of other larger spaces connected to the CS-PRCS. Special precautions are necessary, in addition to the other PRCS requirements, to ensure adequate protection of the employees," the rule states.

The classification of Confined Space with Hazards Isolated would be used when employers have isolated or eliminated all physical and atmospheric hazards in the confined space. The Controlled-Atmosphere Permit-Required Confined Space requires continuous monitoring unless the employer demonstrates periodic monitoring is sufficient. The Permit-Required Confined Space classification Requires an entry supervisor to be present during entry and an early warning fo upstream hazards in sewer-type spaces, but there is no written plan required for this category when the employer maintains a copy of the standard at the job site.

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