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Understanding OSHA’s Confined Spaces in Construction Standard

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How to comply with OSHA’s new Subpart AA [PDF], 1926.1200 Confined Spaces in Construction Standard published on May 4, 2015.

The new standard went into effect on August 3, 2015. Requests for an extension of the effective date indicated a need for additional time for training and the acquisition of equipment necessary to comply with the new standard. OSHA did not delay the effective date, but instead postponed full enforcement of the new standard for 60 days from the effective date of August 3, 2015 to October 2, 2015. During that 60-day period, OSHA should not have issued citations to an employer making good faith efforts to comply with the new standard, as long as the employer is in compliance with either the training requirements of the new standard, found at 29 CFR 1926.1207, or the training requirements found at former 29 CFR 1926.21(b)(6)(i)

Additionally, a second memorandum provides guidance on the enforcement of the Confined Spaces in Construction standard published on May 4, 2015 for residential construction work. The new standard went into effect on August 3, 2015 as stated above. A temporary enforcement policy was in effect for all employers covered by the standard through October 2, 2015, under the terms outlined above. OSHA now further extends this temporary enforcement policy through January 8, 2016, only for employers engaged in residential construction work. Before January 8, 2016, OSHA will not issue citations under the Confined Spaces in Construction standard to an employer engaged in residential construction work if the employer is making good faith efforts to comply with the standard, as long as the employer is in compliance with either the training requirements of the standard, found at 29 CFR 1926.1207, or the former training requirements found at 29 CFR 1926.21(b)(6)(i), which provided:

All employees required to enter into confined or enclosed spaces shall be instructed as to the nature of the hazards involved, the necessary precautions to be taken, and in the use of protective and emergency equipment required. The employer shall comply with any specific regulations that apply to work in dangerous or potentially dangerous areas.

Employers who fail to train their employees consistent with either 29 CFR 1926.1207 or 29CFR 1926.21(b)(6)(i) would properly be cited for violation of-1926.1207. Factors OSHA will consider when evaluating whether an employer is engaged in good faith efforts to comply with the new standard include:

  • If the employer has not trained its employees as required under the new standard, whether the employer has scheduled such training,
  • If the employer does not have the equipment required for compliance with the new standard, including personal protective equipment, whether the employer has ordered or otherwise arranged to obtain such equipment required for compliance and is taking alternative measures to protect employees from confined space hazards, and
  • Whether the employer has engaged in any additional efforts to educate workers about confined space hazards and protect workers from those hazards.

The special dangers of confined spaces

A confined space is a space whose configuration and/or contents may present special dangers not found in normal work areas. Confined spaces may be poorly ventilated and, as a result, contain insufficient oxygen or hazardous levels of toxic gases. Working in a tight space can prevent a worker from keeping a safe distance from mechanical and electrical hazards in the space. Fumes from a flammable liquid that is used in a poorly ventilated area can reach explosive levels. Such hazards endanger both the workers in the confined space and others who become exposed to the hazards when they attempt to rescue injured workers. In a number of cases, rescue workers have themselves died or been injured because they did not have the training and equipment necessary to conduct the rescue safely. Because confined spaces are potentially dangerous, employers must evaluate all confined spaces in which their employees work to determine whether hazards exist or whether the work to be done in the space can create hazards. If a confined space contains an actual or potential hazard that can cause death, injury or acute illness, incapacitation, entrapment, or otherwise interfere with a worker’s ability to leave the space in an emergency, it is a permit-required confined space, or permit space. Employers must take certain precautions whenever workers enter a permit space. These include (1) specifying the precautions to be taken to protect the workers in the space; (2) training the workers who are covered by the standard to give them the knowledge to protect themselves and others; and (3) planning how to rescue injured workers promptly and safely.

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