OSHA Issues Final Ruling on Confined Spaces

Twenty years after regulations were created regarding working in confined spaces in general industry, construction workers finally received their own safety ruling on May 4, when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a mandate to make working in confined spaces safer.

Designed specifically for construction workers, OSHA’s final ruling is expected to dramatically reduce the amount of injuries and fatalities that occur in confined areas such as crawl spaces, air ducts, pits, bins, and tanks.

According to OSHA figures, six workers die each year from accidents in confined spaces while another 812 suffer injuries. With the new rule in place, OSHA estimates the ruling will save five lives and reduce injuries by almost 96 percent per year.

The threat of exposure to hazards in these spaces that have only one, usually difficult way to get in and out, not only endangers the life of the person working in them, but also the life of a rescuer who, often times, does not have the proper training to go into such an area.

One of the major concerns OSHA noted was a lack of trained workers. One of their goals with this new rule is to ensure those working in the confined spaces and the individuals, who may have to rescue them, are properly trained and fully understand the dangers posed by confined spaces.

According to The Center to Protect Workers’ Rights, a union-created safety organization for the construction industry, one-third of all deaths in confined spaces occur to individuals trying to rescue someone who has collapsed in that confined area.

Dr. David Michaels, head of OSHA, said the rule covers confined spaces, such as manholes; crawl spaces; tanks; bins; boilers; elevator, escalator, pump and valve pits; fuel, chemical, water and gas tanks; incinerators; scrubbers; sewers; transformer vaults; heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning ducts; storm drains and water mains; drilled shafts; silos; and step-up transformers.

The new rules concerning confined spaces create a greater emphasis on communication, training, worksite monitoring, and worksite evaluation especially, when dealing with potential hazards such as asphyxiation, electrocution, and toxic substances. Multiple employers must share safety information and must continuously monitor all hazards associated within the confined space and ensure that new individuals working outside that area do not introduce hazards into the confined space.

OSHA will require the identification of confined spaces on all work sites. Employers will be required to continuously monitor engulfment hazards, which help to ensure those working in the confined space can safely evacuate the area before being trapped in the confined space.

The new rule is scheduled to go into effect on August 3, 2015.

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