New OSHA Construction Standard – Part I

OSHA published the final rule covering confined space in construction in the Federal Register on May 5. The rule will become law before the end of this summer. With this in mind, all workers and supervisors should understand the general expectations of the law and be ready to comply with the specific requirements.

We rarely encounter confined space issues in some types of construction work. However, because there is a new and specific regulation, compliance officers should be aware of the hazards of confined space and be watchful for possible situations where confined space protocols should be applied.

In order to understand the requirements for this new regulation, we must first understand the definition of confined space. A confined space is one that:

  • Is large enough and configured so that an employee can bodily enter it;
  • Has limited or restricted means of entry and exit; and
  • Is not designed for continuous employee occupancy.

Some of the more common confined spaces we encounter on construction sites include:

  • Pits (elevator, escalator, pump, valve or other equipment. A pit can have a wide-open top and still be a permit-required confined space.);
  • Manholes (sewer, storm drain, electrical, communication or other utility);
  • Tanks (fuel, chemical, water, or other liquid, solid or gas) and machinery (incinerators, scrubbers, concrete pier columns and sewers);
  • Vaults (transformer, electrical connection and machinery);
  • Ducts (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and all forms of HVAC, air receivers, air preheaters and ID fan systems, bag houses and exhaust);
  • Storm drains (water mains, precast concrete and other pre-formed units);
  • Drilled shafts;
  • Enclosed beams;
  • Vessels;
  • Digesters;
  • Lift stations;
  • Cesspools;
  • Silos; and
  • Sludge gates.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. In fact, the basic definition of confined space can apply to hundreds of situations where workers might be in a hazardous situation, and escape would be difficult.

Part II of this discussion will cover programs to put in place that will provide maximum safety for workers in a confined space.