OSHA Finalizes New Confined Spaces in Construction Rule [US Federal]

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is adding requirements for worker protection in confined spaces in the construction industry.  While previously OSHA only required employers to provide training on construction confined space work, the new subpart will impose a permit program and other requirements that reflect the confined space standards for general industry.  The final rule becomes effective August 3, 2015.

OSHA’s new rule to increase protection for workers performing in confined spaces

OSHA’s new rule provides increased protections for construction workers who perform tasks in confined spaces, which 29 CFR 1910.146(b) defines as work areas that

  • 1) are large enough for an employee to enter,
  • 2) have limited means of entry or exit,
  • 3) are not designed for continuous occupancy.

Reflecting the confined space general standards while taking into account hazards specific to the construction industry.

The final rule reflects the confined space standards for general industry pursuant to 29 CFR 1910.146(c), with some adjustments to take into account hazards that are particular to the construction industry.

Specifically, 1926.1203(a) of the new rules requires an employer to have a competent person evaluate the spaces onsite via a two-step process:

  • 1) determining whether the space meets the definition of a confined space, and if so,
  • 2) identifying any confined spaces that qualify as permit-required confined spaces, including testing of the space as necessary.

Implementation of written permit-space program

In addition, 1926.1203(d) of the new rules requires any employer that has employees who will enter a confined space to have and implement a written permit-space program, and to make the program available for inspection by employees.

As demonstrated by these general requirements, the new construction confined spaces standards are mostly identical or derivate minimally from the confined space standards for industry in 29 CFR 1910.146(c).

Response to the lack of workers training about workplace safety hazards and precautions.

Previously, 29 CFR 1926.21(b)(6) governed confined space requirements as applied to the construction sector and merely instructed employers to train their workers about workplace safety hazards and precautions.  By making the confined space requirements in construction workspaces congruent with the general industry standards, OSHA seeks to improve on safety standards at construction sites.  The new confined space rules for the construction sector take effect on August 3, 2015.

Red-on-line EHS Legal Specialist

Sources:

Final Rule: Confined Spaces in Construction, Federal Register, 80 FR 25365, May 4, 2015.

Permit-required confined spaces, 29 CFR 1910.146.