OSHA Confined Space Rule for Construction Begins in August

Since 1994, OSHA has been working on a confined space entry rule for the construction industry. See what will change on Aug. 4 as the rule goes into effect.

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Workers in the construction industry now have the same confined space protections that those in manufacturing and general industry have had for more than 20 years. The new rule, published May 4 and effective Aug. 3, incorporates most of the general industry rule and includes several provisions specific to construction hazards.

OSHA regulations for the construction industry used to have just a training requirement — employees working in confined spaces had to be instructed about the hazards, necessary precautions and the use of protective emergency equipment. The new rule has five key new requirements according to information published by OSHA:

  • Detailed provisions on coordinating activities when there are multiple employers at the work site to ensure hazards are not introduced into a confined space by workers performing tasks outside the space (e.g., a generator running near the entrance of a confined space causing a buildup of carbon monoxide).
  • A competent person must evaluate the work site and identify confined spaces, including permit spaces (those that may have a hazardous atmosphere, engulfment hazard or other serious hazard that can interfere with a worker’s ability to leave the space without assistance).
  • Continuous atmospheric monitoring whenever possible.
  • Continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards. For example, when workers are performing work in a storm sewer, a storm upstream could cause flash flooding. An electronic sensor or observer posted upstream could alert workers at the first sign of the hazard.
  • Allowance for the suspension of a permit, instead of cancellation, in the event of changes from the entry conditions list 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.

Three other provisions of the new construction rule clarify requirements that already exist in the general industry standard:

  • Employers who direct workers to enter a space without using a complete permit system must prevent workers’ exposure to physical hazards through elimination of the hazard or isolation methods such as lockout/tagout.
  • Employers relying on the aid of local emergency services must arrange for responders to give the employer advance notice if they will be unable to respond for a period of time.
  • Employers must provide training in a language and vocabulary the worker understands.

OSHA’s online FAQ says companies that work in both construction and general industry will meet OSHA’s requirements by following the new construction rule (Subpart AA of 29 CFR 1926). Employers should review the agency’s website for more specific information on how the rule might affect them.

“This rule will save lives of construction workers,” says Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels when announcing the new 621-page construction industry regulation. “Unlike most general industry work sites, construction sites are continually evolving, with the number and characteristics of confined spaces changing as work progresses. This rule emphasizes training, continuous work site evaluation and communication requirements to further protect workers’ safety and health.”

Work on the new rule began in 1994 when OSHA agreed to establish regulations specific to the construction industry when it settled a lawsuit concerning the general industry rule. Michaels says the rule will prevent an estimated 780 serious injuries and save the lives of five construction workers annually.


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