Cal/OSHA Launches Confined Spaces Emphasis Program

The goals of the initiative are to increase enforcement efforts and provide resources, online materials, training, and consultation to prevent injuries and deaths in confined spaces.

The California Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has launched a statewide Confined Space Special Emphasis Initiative to focus attention on preventing worker deaths and injuries in confined spaces in worksites across the state. As part of this initiative, Cal/OSHA issued a Confined Space Hazard Alert to help employers and employees identify confined space situations and take immediate steps to protect workers.

“Employers in California are responsible for identifying and mitigating risks in the workplace,” said Department of Industrial Relations Director Christine Baker. “This initiative and the Confined Space Hazard Alert provide specific information so that employers can identify when confined space hazards exist and special precautions must be taken.”

The goals of the Confined Space Emphasis Initiative are to:

  • Increase awareness of employees and employers of these hazards.
  • Provide resources, online materials, training, and consultation to prevent injuries and deaths.
  • Increase enforcement efforts to ensure all employers have adequate confined space programs and training at their workplaces.

The initiative follows investigations of confined space deaths and injuries in California—in different industries and different situations. In 2011, seven workers were killed in confined space incidents in California, including two young brothers in Kern County overcome by toxic gases in a recycling drainage tunnel.

“Confined spaces can be deceptively dangerous. It is even more tragic that over 60 percent of confined space worker deaths occur to would-be rescuers who attempt to save a worker who initially succumbs,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “These confined space fatalities are preventable with proper programs in place. We are taking a comprehensive approach to reducing these deaths and injuries in California—through widespread education, enforcement, consultation as well as partnerships to help increase awareness and compliance.”

The campaign stresses the importance of the requirement that businesses have plans in place to identify confined space at their workplaces, notify and train employees, and ensure that on-site rescue plans are in place. These requirements include having a written confined space plan, procedures to test the air quality inside the space, proper employee and supervisor training prior to entering confined spaces, and having effective rescue procedures in place which must be immediately available on site.

Common types of confined spaces include tanks, silos, pipelines, sewers, storage bins, drain tunnels, and vaults. These are widespread in many industries, and also in non-industrial workplaces such as health care, education, retail, and services.

Cal/OSHA has posted confined space hazard materials on its website at Online webinars and other outreach programs will also be held throughout the year to help educate employers on the risks of working in confined spaces and necessary steps to prevent injuries and deaths, Cal/OSHA said.

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