OSHA Issues New Safety Rules for Construction Workers in Confined Spaces

OSHA Issues New Safety Rules for Construction Workers in Confined Spaces

by / Wednesday, 06 May 2015 / Published in Workplace Woes

Construction workers often find themselves working in situations that could very easily become dangerous. They often work with heavy equipment, at elevated heights, and in tight, confined spaces. Confined spaces like manholes, silos, tunnels and crawlspaces are particularly hazardous because not only is there limited room for workers to make an emergency escape, they are also at a high risk for being exposed to atmospheric hazards, flammable and toxic substances, and are at an increased risk for asphyxiation.

To protect construction workers who work in confined spaces, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a new final rule regarding working in confined spaces. OSHA defines a confined space as one large enough for a worker to enter it, has limited means of entry or exit, and is not designed to be occupied continuously. Confined spaces can require permits if the space has a hazardous atmosphere, there’s a potential for engulfment or suffocation, or the layout has a sloped floor or converging walls which could cause a worker to become trapped, or any other safety or health hazard.

The new rules include having a competent person evaluate the worksite for the presence of confined spaces and evaluating permit-required confined spaces for entry and exit ways and proper ventilation, eliminating or controlling any hazards present in the space, and testing the air in the space for oxygen levels and any flammable or toxic substances before workers are allowed to enter them. Once the confined space has gone through its initial evaluation, the space then needs to be continuously monitored for any hazards, including atmospheric hazards. Any attendants outside of the confined space need to make sure untrained workers do not enter the space. Under the new rule, attics and crawlspaces can both be considered either confined spaces and permit-required confined spaces.

Prior to the new rule, OSHA’s only regulation for working in confined spaces was that the worker be trained to work in confined spaces. They decided to revise the rule because too many workers were being injured or killed on the job and they believe their new rule will prevent lives from being needlessly lost.

Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Director of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, says, “This rule will save lives of construction workers. Unlike most general industry worksites, construction sites are continually 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.” OSHA estimates their new rules will help prevent about 780 serious injuries on the job each year.

The new rules will go into effect on August 3, 2015.

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