On May 4, 2015, OSHA added requirements for employee protection in confined spaces in the construction industry with the introduction of the construction confined space standard. The new subpart (29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA) will require a confined space permit program. While the final rule is similar to the general industry permit required confined spaces standard, it does address construction-specific hazards, improves enforceability, and includes technology advancements.
OSHA believes this final rule will reduce the average number of fatalities and injuries in confined spaces by 96%. (https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/05/04/2015-08843/confined-spaces-in-construction#addresses). The final rule goes into effect on August 3, 2015.
There are five (5) key differences from the construction rule, and several areas where OSHA has clarified existing requirements.
The five new requirements for the construction confined space standard
- More detailed provisions requiring coordinated activities when there are multiple employers at the worksite. This will ensure hazards are not introduced into a confined space by workers performing tasks outside the space. An example would be a generator running near the entrance of a confined space causing a buildup of carbon monoxide within the space.
- Requiring a competent person to evaluate the work site and identify confined spaces, including permit spaces.
- Requiring continuous atmospheric monitoring whenever possible.
- Requiring continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards. For example, when workers are performing work in a storm sewer, a storm upstream from the workers could cause flash flooding. An electronic sensor or observer posted upstream from the work site could alert workers in the space at the first sign of the hazard, giving the workers time to evacuate the space safely.
- Allowing for the suspension, rather than cancellation, of a permit in the event of changes from the entry conditions listed on the permit or an unexpected event requiring evacuation of the space. The space must be returned to the entry conditions listed on the permit before re-entry.
OSHA has added provisions to the new construction confined space rule that clarifies existing requirements in the General Industry standard.
- Requiring that employers who direct workers to enter a space without using a complete permit system prevent workers’ exposure to physical hazards through elimination of the hazard or isolation methods such as lockout/tagout.
- Requiring that employers who are relying on local emergency services for emergency services arrange for responders to give the employer advance notice if they will be unable to respond for a period of time (because they are responding to another emergency, attending department-wide training, etc.).
- Requiring employers to provide training in a language and vocabulary that the worker understands.
Finally, several terms have been added to the definitions for the construction confined space rule, such as “entry employer” to describe the employer who directs workers to enter a space, and “entry rescue”, added to clarify the differences in the types of rescue employers can use.
“This rule will save lives of construction workers. Unlike most general industry worksites, construction sites are continuously evolving, with the number and characteristics of confined spaces changing as work progresses. This rule emphasizes training, continuous worksite evaluation and communication requirements to further protect workers’ safety and health.”
-Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, Dr. David Michaels
For additional information regarding 29CFR1926 Subpart AA, please see OSHA’s Frequently Asked Questions – Confined Spaces.