July 22 Public Hearing Set for Construction Confined Spaces Rule

With numerous stakeholders lined up in opposition, OSHA announced it will hold an informal public hearing to receive testimony and documentary evidence on its proposed rule for Confined Spaces in Construction. The hearing is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. July 22 at Department of Labor headquarters in Washington, D.C. If a second or third day is necessary, the hearing will begin at 9 a.m. those days.

In comments filed for OSHA to consider, stakeholders have called the proposed rule complex and unnecessary. OSHA chief Edwin Foulke Jr., however, said the rule will address construction-specific issues and give employers needed guidance to protect workers who enter confined spaces.

Commenters are all but universal in opposing the scheme of classifying confined space that OSHA has proposed in the rule. Terence O'Sullivan, general president of the 500,000-member Laborers' International Union of North America, one of the largest unions of construction workers, said the classifications "may cause more harm than good, leading contractors to ignore a rule they find to be too complex." O'Sullivan, like many other commenters, urged OSHA to apply the simpler, current general industry confined spaces rule to construction instead of enacting this rule. T. Peter Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, also urged reliance on the general industry standard, but he devoted the bulk of his comment to concern about the rule's imposing of strict liability on the "controlling contractor" for all entry operations on a site, eevey if that contractor's employees are not participating. This will be very difficult for the construction industry, especially on transportation construction sites where a government agency is frequently the owner of the facility under construction, Ruane wrote.

OSHA published the proposed standard Nov. 28, 2007 (72 FR 67351) and the public was given until Feb. 28, 2008, to submit comments. Those who intend to present testimony at the hearing -- many commenters stated they intend to testify -- must notify OSHA in writing of their intention to do so no later than May 21. Parties who request more than 10 minutes for their presentations at the hearing and those who will present documentary evidence must provide copies of their full testimony and all documentary evidence no later than June 20. For more information, visit www.osha.gov.

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