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Confined Spaces Standard Finally Emerges

LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

Twenty-two years after OSHA committed to working on a confined spaces rule for construction, the newly published rule is finally set to go into effect on August 3rd. OSHA initially drafted a more complicated rule with a more complex classification system for confined spaces, but both unions and employers asked for a rule closer to what was already in place for the general industry. In the absence of a specific rule for construction, employers have largely been following the general industry rule.

OSHA took this feedback into account, producing a final rule that resembles the general industry rule but improves on the language and makes several significant changes to adapt it to a construction environment.

“It won’t make many headlines, but this is an important step forward for worker safety,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “Entering an unsafe confined space could be the last thing a worker does. We want to make sure all Laborers are protected so they can do their jobs and get home safely.”

The new construction rule places more responsibility on the “controlling contractor” to coordinate the exchange of information, whereas this is primarily the responsibility of the “host employer” in the general industry rule. There are several other additions that help adapt this rule to the construction sector:

  • The rule calls for continuous monitoring of atmospheric and engulfment hazards as well as worksite evaluations performed by a competent person.
  • If local emergency services will be used for rescue, employers must have responders notify them in the event they will be unavailable.
  • If employers make use of alternate procedures for permit space entry, they must prevent physical hazards through elimination or isolation (e.g., lockout-tagout).
  • Unlike in the general industry rule, permits may be suspended instead of cancelled (if the space is returned to permit conditions prior to re-entry).

The LHSFNA has developed a new Confined Spaces page to summarize the requirements of the new rule and help contractors understand its requirements, including the proper steps to take before, during and after entry into a confined space. The following links include specific information on each section of the rule as well as two different sample confined spaces entry permits.

  • Definitions – The standard has almost 50 definitions. These are the key ones contractors should know.
  • Timeline for compliance – This step-by-step list explains what contractors need to do before, during and after entry to remain compliant with the new rule.
  • Roles and responsibilities – Explains the roles and responsibilities of each entity on site, including the employer, competent person and workers entering the space.
  • Entry procedures – Details two different entry procedure options.
  • Monitoring requirements – Lays out what must be done to monitor the space for hazardous conditions.
  • Equipment requirements – Lists what equipment must be provided to workers.
  • Training requirements – Explains training requirements for those involved with confined spaces on the site.
  • Rescue/emergency requirements – Details the requirements for emergency services, including what to do if they are unavailable.
  • Entry Permits – The two sample entry permits listed on this page can be used to plan safe entries into confined spaces on your site.

For more information about confined spaces, order the Fund’s Confined Spaces Health Alert or the Laborers’ Guide to Competent Persons through the online Publications Catalogue. The LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division is also available at 202-628-5465 to assist LIUNA signatory contractors with keeping their sites safe.

[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health.]

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