On May 4, 2015, OSHA issued a new standard for construction work in confined spaces, which became effective August 3, 2015. And now that we are two (2) years into this new Confined Space standard I thought a follow-up on how it is to be applied in GENERAL INDUSTRY workplaces may be helpful. We are still getting a lot of pushback from clients who have “contractors” entering their PRCS and doing “construction work” and both parties are following 1910.146, where technically speaking BOTH parties should be utilizing the requirements found in 1926.1201-.1213 and here’s what OSHA says about this situation...

How do I know whether to follow the general industry or construction confined space rule?

If you are doing construction work - such as building a new structure or upgrading an old one - then you MUST follow the construction confined space rule.

 

I’ve been following the general industry rule. What is new or different about the construction rule?

There are five (5) key differences from the construction rule, and several areas where OSHA has clarified existing requirements. The five (5) new requirements include:

  1. More detailed provisions requiring COORDINATED ACTIVITIES when there are multiple employers at the worksite. This will ensure hazards are not introduced into a permit-required confined space by workers performing tasks outside the space. An example would be a generator running near the entrance of a permit-required confined space causing a buildup of carbon monoxide within the space.
  2. Requiring a COMPETENT PERSON to evaluate the work site and identify confined spaces, including permit spaces.
  3. Requiring CONTINUOUS ATMOSPHERIC MONITORING WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
  4. Requiring CONTINUOUS MONITORING OF ENGULFMENT HAZARDS. For example, when workers are performing work in a storm sewer, a storm upstream from the workers could cause flash flooding. An electronic sensor or observer posted upstream from the work site could alert workers in the space at the first sign of the hazard, giving the workers time to evacuate the space safely.
  5. Allowing for the suspension of a permit, instead of cancellation, in the event of changes from the entry conditions list on the permit or an unexpected event requiring evacuation of the space. The permit-required confined space MUST be returned to the entry conditions listed on the permit before re-entry.

In addition, OSHA has added provisions to the new rule that clarifies existing requirements in the General Industry standard. These include:

  1. Requiring that employers who direct workers to enter a permit-required confined space without using a complete permit system PREVENT workers' exposure to physical hazards through the ELIMINATION OF THE HAZARD OR ISOLATION METHODS such as lockout/tagout.
  2. Requiring that employers who are relying on local emergency services for emergency services ARRANGE FOR RESPONDERS TO GIVE THE EMPLOYER ADVANCE NOTICE IF THEY WILL BE UNABLE TO RESPOND FOR A PERIOD OF TIME (because they are responding to another emergency, attending department-wide training, etc.).
  3. Requiring employers to provide training in a language and vocabulary that the worker understands.

Finally, several terms have been added to the definitions for the construction rule, such as

"entry employer" to describe the employer who directs workers to enter a space, and

"entry rescue", added to clarify the differences in the types of rescue employers can use

 

If I hire a contractor (or subcontractor) to do work in a permit-required confined space do I have any responsibilities?

Yes, Controlling contractors and host employers MUST discuss spaces on the site and their hazards with entry employers and each other before and after entry.  Tell me more about the conversations between host employers, controlling contractors, and entry employers.

Diagram showing information flow and coordination pre, post, and during entry, between the Host Employer, Controlling Contractor, and Sub Contractors.

PRCSinConsreuction flowchart

The above diagram shows the information flow and coordination between these employers

The rule makes the controlling contractor, rather than the host employer, the primary point of contact for information about permit spaces at the work site. The HOST EMPLOYER MUST provide information it has about permit spaces at the work site to the CONTROLLING CONTRACTOR, who then passes it on to the employers whose employees will enter the spaces (ENTRY EMPLOYERS).

Likewise, entry employers must give the controlling contractor information about their entry program and hazards they encounter in the space, and the controlling contractor passes that information on to other entry employers and back to the host. As mentioned above, the controlling contractor is also responsible for making sure employers outside a space know not to create hazards in the space, and that entry employers working in a space at the same time do not create hazards for one another's workers.

 

What standard should I follow if my workers are doing construction AND general industry work in confined spaces?

An employer whose workers are engaged in BOTH CONSTRUCTION AND GENERAL INDUSTRY WORK in permit-required confined space will meet OSHA requirements if that employer meets the requirements of 29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA - Confined Spaces in Construction.

 
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