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Death Trap - What you need to know about the OSHA Confined Spaces in Construction Standard

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Death Trap - What you need to know about the OSHA Confined Spaces
in Construction Standard

OSHA last issued rules addressing confined space work back in 1993 but only for general industry. 

Therefore, up until May 1, 2015, when the OSHA Confined Spaces in Construction Standard was issued, 
the only construction-related requirement to confined spaces had been issued in 1979 as a training 
provision for construction confined space work (29 CFR
1926.21(b)(6). This provision states, “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.”

The effective date for the Confined Spaces in Construction Standard was August 2, 2015, with full 
enforcement starting October 2, 2015 for most construction. Residential construction is expected to 
comply with the Confined Spaces in Construction Standard sometime after March
8, 2016. The new Confined Spaces in Construction Standard is expected to save approximately
800 construction workers a year from serious injury, including death.

Construction Industry and General Industry
The new Confined Spaces in Construction Standard is closely aligned with the General Industry 
Permit-Required Confined Spaces Standard (29 CFR 1910.146) and is more comprehensive in all aspects 
of the confined space entry process. These aspects include communication, planning, preparedness, 
entry, post-entry requirements and documentation throughout the confined space entry process.

The Confined Spaces Standard in Construction has set a new bar for confined space entry for both 
construction and general industry. Unlike the General Industry Permit-Required Confined Spaces 
Standard, the Confined Spaces in Construction Standard details provisions for when multiple 
employers are at the worksite, defines a “competent person,” requires continuous atmospheric 
monitoring as well as monitoring for engulfment hazards, and allows for permit suspension instead 
of cancellation. The Confined Spaces in Construction Standard also provides more clarification than 
the General Industry Permit-Required Confined Spaces Standard regarding the elimination of a hazard 
or isolation methods (lockout/tagout, line breaking, double block and bleed, blanking or blinding), 
arrangements with local emergency workers, and worker language and vocabulary training, in addition 
to “entry employer” and “entry rescue.”

It’s important to note that employers with employees performing both general industry and 
construction work must defer to the Confined Spaces Standard in Construction since it is more
stringent. Thus, an employer complying with the Confined Spaces Standard in Construction
would be in compliance with the provisions of the General Industry Permit-Required Confined
Spaces Standard as well.

Key Provisions of the Confined Spaces in Construction Standard
Similar to the General Industry Standard, the Confined Spaces Standard in Construction also 
requires a written program. It affects all construction employers whose workers may be exposed to 
confined space hazards and requires that effective steps be taken to prevent employee entry into 
permit spaces onsite even if they have no need to enter.

According to the Confined Spaces Standard in Construction, a “host employer” is the employer that 
owns or manages the property where the construction work is taking place; the “controlling 
contractor” is the employer that has overall responsibility for construction at the worksite; and 
the “entry employer” is any employer who makes decisions regarding employee entry into permit 
spaces, including both employees hired directly by that employer and other employees (e.g., temp 
workers). Keep in mind that a controlling contractor who owns or manages the property is both a 
controlling employer and a host employer.

Employers are required to communicate prior to, during and after each confined space entry, as
illustrated here.

A “competent person” is designated as one capable of identifying existing and predictable
hazards that are unsanitary, hazardous or dangerous to employees and who has authorization to take 
prompt corrective measures to eliminate them. This competent person is required to evaluate 
confined spaces. Employers are required to determine the types of confined spaces that workers will 
be in, what hazards they might encounter and methods for making those hazards safe. They’re also 
required to decide which training workers should receive and to develop rescue plans.

All confined spaces are considered Permit-Required Confined Spaces unless a competent person either 
reclassifies the spaces or documents that alternative practices can be applied. Yes, that means 
that spaces such as attics, pits and crawl spaces must now be evaluated, analyzed and classified.

In addition to specifying the ability of an entry employer to suspend a confined space entry, the
Confined Spaces Standard in Construction details duties and training requirements for the 
authorized entrant, attendant, entry supervisor, competent person and rescue services. It also 
details requirements and more specific arrangements for rescue services. Finally, it specifies that 
documented supporting data and determinations should be shared with employees.

Impacts of Non-Compliance
OSHA compliance is the minimum requirement by law and does not guarantee that no accident will 
occur or result in a claim for compensation. The impacts from a serious injury or death can also 
stop the job, affect the employer’s qualification to bid on new work, compromise the employer’s 
ability to maintain insurance coverage costs or keep them from escalating, lead to a loss of 
reputation and business, or result in litigation. Worse, a serious injury or death impacts quality 
of life for family, friends and co-workers.

For these impacts to be achieved, management must commit to a robust, proactive approach. An 
employer must have a Confined Spaces Program that is OSHA-compliant, involving competent employees 
for all job duties and practices and procedures that are as effective as possible. To achieve this, 
follow best management practices set by the construction industry, professional and trade 
organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the National Fire 
Protection Association (NFPA).

The new Confined Spaces in Construction Standard is expected to save approximately 800 construction 
workers a year from serious injury, including death.

The Confined Spaces Standard in Construction has set a new bar for confined space entry for both 
construction and general industry.

Michael Ziskin, CHCM, CHMM, CBCP, President, Field Safety Corporation
Field Safety Corporation provides Environmental, Health and Safety Construction Services throughout 
the northeast U.S. Michael and his staff also provides Confined Space Programs, Training, On Site


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