OSHA issues final rule for Confined Spaces in Construction

Confined space construction workers

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration this week issued the Confined Spaces in Construction final rule, a new subpart to 29 CFR Part 1926.

Designed to protect construction workers from toxic substances, electrocutions, explosions and asphyxiation when working in areas with restricted means for entry and exit, the rule now matches similar rules in place in manufacturing and general industry for more than two decades.

The rule takes effect August 3.

Previously, OSHA had one training requirement in place, issued in 1979. The new final rule replaces the old requirement with a comprehensive standard that includes the requirements for evaluating hazards, identifying and classifying confined spaces and issuing permits or implementing alternative procedures.

Although the rule in large part follows the general industry standard, it includes important requirements that address communication, worksite evaluation and training that are not clearly specified in the general industry standard. The final standard does not apply to routine maintenance activities, which is covered by the general industry standard.

Employers affected by the standard are required to maintain a written program and review it annually, as well as adopting a range of safety measures that include isolation procedures, atmospheric testing, ventilation, monitoring and arrangements for rescue and emergency assistance.

The standard will affect construction work involving buildings, highways, bridges, tunnels and utility lines, among others, and will potentially affect both general contractors and specialty-trade contractors.

Citing an accident last year when two workers were asphyxiated repairing leaks in a manhole, the Department of Labor says the new rule is expected to have a dramatic impact on construction worker safety. “We estimate that it will prevent about 780 serious injuries every year,” says Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.

With an estimated 6 fatalities and 812 injuries occurring annually from construction work in confined spaces, OSHA says full compliance with the final rule is expected to prevent 96 percent of these injuries and fatalities.

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The final rule, including the Amendment to Standards (page 582), can be viewed in its entirety can be viewed at the Federal Register site, or a reader-friendly version can be viewed on OSHA’s website.