New OSHA Standard for Confined Spaces in Construction Industry Goes into Effect Soon

OSHA’s new confined space standard for the construction industry will go into effect on August 3, 2015.  This will not only affect contractors, but also general industry employers who have construction taking place on the premises, with the exception of specialized construction activities. 

A confined space is an area that has restricted means for entrance and exit, and is not intended for continuous occupancy.  These spaces aren’t necessarily designed for people to enter, but are large enough to enter, and may require occasional entry for maintenance or cleaning.  Examples include manholes, pipes, tanks, wells, pits, silos, and dumpsters.  Dangers associated with confined spaces include poor ventilation, potential exposure to toxic fumes, temperature extremes, fire hazards, noise, poor visibility, and inability to exit quickly in an emergency.  The rule sets forth a complicated set of standards for construction employers.  

Construction employers will now be required to determine:

  • what kinds of spaces their workers are in,
  • what hazards could exist,
  • how those hazards should be made safe,
  • what training workers should receive, and
  • how to rescue those workers if anything goes wrong.

Although the new construction standard is similar to the existing general industry confined space standard, OSHA has identified the 5 key differences, including:

  1. More detailed provisions requiring coordinated activities when there are multiple employers at the worksite;
  2. Requiring that a “competent person” evaluate the work site and identify confined spaces, including permit spaces;
  3. Requiring that continuous atmospheric monitoring must be conducted whenever possible;
  4. Requiring continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards, and the creation of an “early warning system”; and
  5. Allowing 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.

Complying with the new standard will require construction employers to carefully review all confined spaces and potential confined spaces on their premises.  While the new standard is effective August 3, OSHA has decided to postpone full enforcement until October 2, 2015.  During the 60-day postponement, OSHA will not issue citations to any employer who is making good faith efforts to comply with the new standard, so long as they are complying with the prior training standard.

To make sure your company is in compliance with the OSHA’s new confined space standard, or for assistance developing or revising your company’s confined space program, contact Michelle Reese at mrreese@dayketterer.com, or 330.455.0173.