OSHA Issues New Confined Space Standard for the Construction Industry
On November 28, 2007, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) proposed a new standard designed to regulate the hazards posed by confined spaces in the construction industry. Although the current construction industry standards do address confined spaces in a limited fashion (see, e.g., 29 C.F.R. §1926.21(b)(6)), they do not contain any specific regulations regarding how employees are to be protected when working in confined spaces. OSHA estimates that each year there are over 6 fatalities and approximately 967 injuries experienced by construction employees working in confined spaces.
In developing the new standard, OSHA recognized that there are unique concerns and hazards posed by confined spaces in the construction industry. OSHA noted that the construction industry has higher employee turnover rates and also recognized the difficulty posed by the fact that employees from numerous contractors often have access to confined spaces at construction sites. Moreover, because of the very nature of construction, the characteristics of confined spaces at construction sites and the hazards that they pose often change throughout the course of the project.
The new standard requires construction employers to determine if confined spaces exist at their worksites, to determine if any such confined space presents existing or potential hazards, and to classify the confined space based upon any physical or atmospheric hazards that are present or potential. The standard contains four classifications of confined spaces: (1) Continuous-System-Permit-Required Confined Space; (2) Permit-Required Confined Space; (3) Controlled-Atmosphere Confined Space; and (4) Isolated-Hazard Confined Space. The standard defines each of these types of confined spaces and imposes specific procedures and precautions to protect employees from the hazards posed by each type.
Interested employers have until January 28, 2008 to submit comments on the new confined space standard. OSHA’s existing confined space standards have been notoriously difficult to interpret and implement; the newly proposed confined space standard for the construction industry appears to be no exception.