ASSE Suggests Changes to Proposed Confined Space Standard

American Society of Safety Engineers' member Gary Lopez, CSP, testified today during an informal public hearing at the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. on the proposed rule for confined spaces in construction.

Lopez, senior director of safety for Ranger Construction Industries Inc. in West Palm Beach, Florida, a former member of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z117 Accredited Standards Committee for Confined Space Entry and current chair of the ASSE standards development committee, stated that the proposed rule is unduly complicated, introduces unnecessarily new terminology and burdensome requirements, fails to recognize current and widely understood safety practices that have proven successful both in general industry and construction, and inadequately addresses several vitally important confined space issues.

Lopez noted the Proposed Rule is not in harmony with the Z117.1-2003 voluntary consensus standard currently widely adopted throughout both general industry and construction and among safety and health professionals managing confined space hazards in workplaces countrywide.

"What concerns me is what I fear may be a lack of full appreciation of the on-the-job realities ASSE's members face every day as they strive to help workers protect themselves when entering confined spaces," Lopez said. "I firmly believe that, if the writers of this proposed rule were in our shoes, they would have assumed a new way of looking at construction confined spaces separately from general industry--with new classifications, new terminology, new requirements--was not the way to address the confined space risks viewed as unique to the construction industry.

"Confined spaces in general industry are no less hazardous to enter then construction industry confined spaces," Lopez continued. "The real difference is the risks presented in construction are less predictable than in general industry. This is because most general industry confined spaces are "fixed," meaning that they have either been entered before or have a history of use that helps in determining risks and precautions. As a result, they are easier to address during the entry permit risk assessment process."

OSHA published the proposed "Confined Spaces in Construction Standard" on Nov. 28, 2007. Workplace spaces are considered "confined" because their configurations hinder the activities of employees who must enter, work in, and exit them. A confined space has limited or restricted means for entry or exit, and is not designed for continuous employee occupancy. Confined spaces include, but are not limited to, underground vaults, tanks, storage bins, manholes, pits, silos, process vessels, and pipelines.

OSHA uses the term "permit-required confined space" (permit space) to describe a confined space that has one or more of the following characteristics: contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere; contains a material that has the potential to engulf an entrant; has walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area which could trap or asphyxiate an entrant; or contains any other recognized safety or health hazard, such as unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, or heat stress.

Lopez said the proposed rule does not take into account the reason a controlling contractor or host employer often retains a contractor is due to the contractor's expertise in confined space entry. Giving a host employer or controlling contractor responsibility for information about the confined space makes little sense in such situations and could prove dangerous due to their lack of familiarity with confined space hazards, he added.

"ASSE understands the difficult job OSHA has in moving forward rulemaking," Lopez said. "We want to work with OSHA to help make sure this rulemaking can build on the successful ways our members and the voluntary consensus standards process help workers enter confined spaces safely."

For a full copy of the testimony, go to www.asse.org/professionalaffairs.

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