Working in confined spaces is one of the most dangerous situations an employee can work in. Even worse, confined spaces aren’t just a danger to the employee working in them but also to the rescue team that might have to follow. As many 60% of fatalities in confined spaces are would-be rescuers, according to OSHA.
For that reason, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration aims to uphold safety and protection for construction workers by assisting them in meeting safety standards involving the work in confined spaces. OSHA has issued a new fact sheet containing clarity on information and policies pertaining to the Confined Spaces in Construction (29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA).
According to OSHA’s construction standard defines a Confined Space as work spaces that meet three criteria:
(1) Adequate space for the worker to enter,
(2) limited means to enter and exit and
(3) not designed for continuous occupancy.
Confined spaces create life-threatening hazards such as electrocutions, suffocations, explosions and toxic substances. Under the standard procedure, these spaces must be deemed as permit-required confined spaces.
Characteristics of a permit-required confined space:
- Potential hazardous atmosphere
- May have materials that has potential to engulf an entrant
- Entrant may be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by floors sloping downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section due to its risky internal configuration
- May contains any potential and recognized safety and health hazard
Prior to the beginning of work, companies are responsible to ensure the safety of their workers when inside confined spaces. There should be an initial evaluation of the existing space by a competent person to identify threats and evaluate if the space is a permit-required confined space.
The assigned person to evaluate does not need to physically enter the confined space, however he or she needs to evaluate existing structure based on experience and knowledge of the space and refer to the specifications and materials used.
The competent person assigned also needs to check and assess possible acute health hazards in the confined spaces. These include toxic and explosive elements. During the evaluation, the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) must be maintained and reviewed.
The Employer’s Obligations, According to OSHA:
- Host employer – Owns and manages the property where the construction is done
- Controlling contractor – Overall responsibility in managing and overseeing the construction site
- Entry employer – Decides who is permitted to enter and work in a permit-required confined space.
While all empl0yers belong to the work process in construction sites and may have certain responsibilities during the construction, the entry employers carry most of the obligations applying to the standard policies.
Host employers must provide pre-entry information about the confined spaces such as the location, potential hazards and the reason for its identification of permit-required confined space and precautions for the protection of the workers. These information must be pass on to the controlling contractor.
The controlling contractor becomes the main point of contact for information at the work site. They will be connecting different entry employers and must be responsible in making sure that outside employers must not create any hazards on the space. The information received about the confined spaces will be passed on to entry employers. At the same time, entry employers must provide controlling employers more details on their entry program and potential hazards encountered during entry.
Obligations of the Entry Employers:
- Inform employees of the atmosphere inside the confined spaces and the warning signs during entry.
- Must provide employees with the standard Personal Protective Equipment prior to entry.
- Offers employees training involved in their inside the permit-required confined space.
- Create written permit-required confined space program.
- Ensure that rescue and emergency services are available prior to working in a confined space.