OSHA Confined Space Safety

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

Unlike some OSHA visits, you don't have worry about unexpected OSHA rulings. In January 2013, OSHA announced plans to finalize the biggest rulemaking action on its agenda: construction confined space safety. Discussion to meet unique construction site requirements began in 2003. Fast forward to today, and OSHA recently announced plans to issue that same final ruling by September 2014.

What does the current confined spaces standard cover?

The current rule 29 CFR 1910.146 was issued on January 14, 1994, and details procedures to write a confined space program that monitors hazards, trains employees, prevents unauthorized employees from entrance, and maintains records. The standard specifically protects employees from ventilation hazards, and physical hazards by requiring permits to enter. The current standard was written for spaces where typically one or two types of job functions are carried out.

Why are construction site confined spaces different than the industry standard?

Construction sites are unique because they are evolving scenes that create confined spaces within confined spaces—difficult to manage under the current confined space standard. Multiple job functions are carried out in relatively the same space: framing, siding, electrical work, plumbing, and carpentry are among the lengthy list. Workers entering construction confined spaces are exposed to multiple types of confined space hazards, including electrical and mechanical hazards, extreme temperature changes, high noise levels, and falling objects to name a few.

What are the proposed changes?

Under the proposed rule 1926 Subpart AA, 1926.1200 employers would first determine whether there is a confined space at a job site. If there is a confined space, the employer would determine if there are existing or potential hazards in the space. If there are such hazards, the employer would classify the space according to the physical and atmospheric hazards found in it. The four classifications are:

  • Isolated-Hazard Confined Space
  • Controlled-Atmosphere Confined Space
  • Permit-Required Confined Space
  • Continuous System-Permit-Required Confined Space

The proposed requirements for each type of confined space are tailored to control the different types of hazards.

How will the proposed changes to standard 29 CFR 1910.146 impact construction site safety?

Close to 1,000 people are injured in confined spaces on construction sites each year. The ability to classify the spaces on a construction site will absolutely help reduce the number of fatalities and injuries which constantly occur among construction workers. OSHA believes that with the new standard, at least 800 of those injuries will be prevented each year (Dalto, 2013). Training and clear visual communication will help workers understand the hazards they are faced with, depending on what area of the construction site they are working in.

Visual communication will contribute to the proposed standard’s success. Creating signs and labels that clearly define each space, warning workers of the exposure to hazards in each area, will significantly help the reduction of injuries that OSHA expects.

Dalto, J. (2013, March). New Confined Spaces in Construction Standard from OSHA 1926 Subpart AA 1926.1200. USA.