Laborers' Union Bucks Trends, Backs Confined Space Standard

The Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), a big labor union of construction workers, filed comments on Feb. 28 largely supporting OSHA's proposed standard governing confined space entries in construction. Many safety organizations, including ASSE, had done the opposite, saying the standard is unnecessarily complex, ignores important consensus standards, and would not improve safety in the construction sector.

LIUNA General President Terence M. O'Sullivan expressed his support in an article published in the union's LifeLines Online magazine. "In general, we think the proposed standard, though long overdue, is a good one," said O'Sullivan. He submitted comments after a review of the proposal by the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America, a venerable safety organization. "We especially highlight one of its unique provisions: Not only workers who are directly involved with the confined space, but also anyone else who may be in the area (other workers, subcontractors, etc.) must receive confined space training. This is because about 60 percent of all confined space fatalities are 'would-be rescuers' -- heroic people, usually co-workers, who enter confined spaces in attempts to save those who have been overtaken by the hazards. In the process, they are overcome as well,' O'Sullivan said.

He did not offer unqualified support, however, urging OSHA to include fire and crush hazards along with engulfment among the physical hazards defined by the standard and agreeing with other critics that the standard diverged from the simpler classification scheme of the confined space standard for general industry. "I believe the proposed rule will be confusing and not feasible in the construction industry. The general industry standard, with two classifications, either permit-required or non-permit-required, is sufficient. Adding two additional classifications may cause more harm than good, leading contractors to ignore a rule they find to be too complex." And O'Sullivan asked OSHA to clarify who has the responsibility for summoning rescuers. "Rescue and emergency procedures should be part of a required written program. All workers should be trained in proper rescue and emergency procedures." He also said the standard should require constractors to designate competent persons.

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