scale3This week I came across a perfect example to demonstrate how OSHA's recent 1926 Subpart AA - Confined Spaces in Construction can impact BOTH construction sites AND workplaces normally covered by General Industry Standards (1910).  A lot of businesses who deal with tanker trucks will have a "scale" for weighing these trucks.  This week while working at a clients facility I came upon a job where their scale was being replaced.  As shown below, the installation of this scale required workers to enter what is clearly a Confined Space; however, due to the nature of their work and the condition in the scale pit this space did not rise to the level of it being a Permit-Required Confined Space (PRCS). Thus most of 1926.1201-.1213 or 1910.146 did NOT actually apply in this situation; however, there is one requirement that did apply under BOTH standards...

1926.1203(a) Before it begins work at a worksite, each employer must ensure that a competent person identifies all confined spaces in which one or more of the employees it directs may work, and identifies each space that is a permit space, through consideration and evaluation of the elements of that space, including testing as necessary.


1910.146(c)(1) The employer shall evaluate the workplace to determine if any spaces are permit-required confined spaces.

NOTE: Proper application of the decision flow chart in Appendix A to section 1910.146 would facilitate compliance with this requirement.


So even if the space turns out NOT to be a PRCS. we are still obligated to evaluate the space.  The tricky part here is that this space was created as soon as the construction workers who were installing the scale laid the scale over the pit.  No one was in the pit when the crane was setting the scale, but as soon as it was set a couple of workers entered the access port to go under the scale and ensure it was properly set in place.  They were IN FACT entering a CONFINED SPACE that had NOT been evaluated by their employer.  I removed the employees and spoke with them about the Confined Space and found that they had not received training on the definitions of a CS/PRCS or the hazards they could present.  This is a major "scale" company that does work all around the nation and yet their employer had not yet implemented a Confined Space program for their work.  Here is a view of the scale after it had been set:


You can see one of two access ports ate the bottom of this photo (highlighted in yellow box); there is a duplicate portal on the other end (up by the workers).  The space under scale is about 4' deep on one end and slightly less deep on the other end and you can move from one end to the other while under the scale (e.g. it is one (1) space with two (2) entry portals).

The access portals are provided should any maintenance be needed on the load cells underneath the scale.  Here is a close up of the access portal:


As we can see these portals create limited or restricted means for entry and exit.  Also, the space under the scale is NOT designed for continuous employee occupancy and it is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter it; thus we have created a Confined Space via construction work.

As I stated above, after my evaluation, it was determined that this space did not rise to the level of it being a Permit-Required Confined Space based on the hazards inherent to the space AND the work taking place in the space.  However, I have had scale pits in my past that were a PRCS based on hazards of the older design scale pits (e.g. moving parts) and/or welding in the pit for a considerable amount of time.  I have also found these pits to be full of water (stagnant water) which we all know can pose an atmospheric hazard.  So this week the space was a mere Confined Space, but due to its design (i.e. water can accumulate in the pit) this CS could become a PRCS.

My suggestion to the client was to label the space as a PRCS on the inside of the access port doors.  I like placing my lables there so that they are clearly visible once the portal is opened and are protected from UV, rain, and truck tires.  PLEASE know that I ONLY recommend this type of placement for the signage when there is CLEARLY NO HAZARDS that would cause issue by merely opening the portal.

This is a space that can be easily RECLASSIFIED under .146(c)(7) for general industry work or .1203(g) for construction work.  But by establishing this space under the scale as a PRCS, it requires some form of "evaluation" BEFORE workers enter the space.  Since this space is open to the environment and we could have stagnant water which could produce an atmospheric hazard, I always want a TRAINED EYE to evaluate the space BEFORE anyone enters.  Entry into this space will be RARE, but it only takes one mistake to take a life!

Companies engaged in "construction work" really need to get on this 1926 Subpart AA - Confined Spaces in Construction.  I have worker several shutdowns/turnarounds this spring/summer and have found that the majority of construction companies have not "embraced" (if you know what I mean) this life-safety standard.  This includes multinational firms all the way down to the 3-5 man companies (yes - companies with just 3-5 employees (unless their brothers!) fall under OSHA!).  In most cases there was some level of protection because the host had prepared their PRCS(s) and taken the necessary PRCS safety measures; however, in those spaces that were 100% dedicated to a construction activity outside the process areas and outside the eye of the host and where a new PRCS was created via the construction work we found nearly all work associated with the new standard as being woefully deficient. 1926 Subpart AA - Confined Spaces in Construction is now over 1-year old and there is no excuse for this type of performance.

As in the new scale installation, the installation work CLEARLY falls under 1926 activities and thus the workers doing the install will fall under 1926 Subpart AA - Confined Spaces in Construction.  Once the installation is complete and for some reason later down the road they need to enter the scale pit, that entry will most likely fall under 1910.146 as it would be considered "maintenance work" which is a "general industry" scope of work.  If anyone finds all this too confusing and wants to simplify matters, OSHA has stated (see #4 and #17) that an employer can fall the more up-to-date and stringent 1926 Subpart AA - Confined Spaces in Construction standard when in doubt as to which standard would apply.  So we have a construction crew who creates the CS/PRCS and hands it over to the host who will then manage the said space based on their evaluation(s), thus we have the creation of a Confined Space... from construction to general industry.

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