OSHA requires employers with confined spaces and permit-required confined spaces to identify permit-required confined spaces, control hazards associated with the space, test the space conditions, and provide employee training.
Why is it important to comply with the confined spaces regulations?
Identifying confined spaces and adhering to OSHA’s requirements for permit-required confined spaces leads to better safety conditions for employees who must work in or around confined spaces. Failure to comply with OSHA’s confined space requirements will subject the employer to civil fines and possibly criminal penalty under OSHA’s regulations.
In addition to OSHA’s regulations, 28 states currently operate their own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health plans with confined space standards that are identical to or stricter than the federal OSHA standards.
Confined Space Determination
Employers in general industry must determine whether their confined spaces constitute permit-required confined spaces. Confined spaces are areas that are not necessarily designed for people, but are large enough for workers to enter and perform certain tasks.
Confined spaces also have limited or restricted means for entry or exit and are not designed for continuous occupancy. Permit-required confined spaces are confined spaces that have health or safety hazards such as hazardous atmosphere, engulfing materials, converging walls or floors, or any other recognized safety or health hazard.
Specifically, permit-required confined spaces have one or more of the following characteristics:
1) contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere;
2) contains a material with the potential to engulf someone who enters the space;
3) has an internal configuration that might cause an entrant to be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor that slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross section;
4) contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazards.
If the confined space determination concludes that an area is a permit-required confined space, the employer must determine whether to allow its employees to enter the permit-required confined space. OSHA defines “entry” as an action by which a person passes through an opening to a permit-required confined space. Simply placing a hand through the opening of a permit-required confined space is considered an entry.
If employees will not enter the permit-required confined space, an employer must simply label the permit-required confined space and prevent employees from entering. If employees will enter the permit-required confined space, the employer must implement a permit system to facilitate entries into the permit-required confined space.
Importance of implementing an active regulatory watch on confined spaces regulations
Implementing an active regulatory watch on these regulations will keep the facility up-to-date on its confined space obligations.
In addition, OSHA recently proposed to extend confined space requirements to the construction industry. Effective August 2015, OSHA’s rulemaking imposes many of the same confined space requirements that apply to general industry on construction operations. A regulatory watch tracks regulatory changes such as the confined space standard for the construction industry.
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