A new Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule on confined spaces in construction will affect anyone who works in spaces such as manholes, pipelines and tanks, just to name a few. It also adds new requirements to the safety training employers are required to provide their employees. The standard goes into effect Aug. 3, but will not be enforced until Oct. 2, due to a 60-day delay recently issued by OSHA.

OSHA defines a confined space as a space with limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy.

The agency released the standard to regulate confined spaces in construction on May 1, but it has been in the works since 1994 when OSHA agreed to propose such a standard as part of a settlement agreement. What followed was a painstaking 21-year process that required national meetings among regulators, employers and workers to ensure worker safety.

OSHA estimates the new rule will prevent approximately five fatalities and 780 injuries per year.

“Before [the workers] were just being trained about the confined spaces; now they are aware of the present and potential hazards,” said IBEW’s Safety Department Director Dave Mullen.

To ensure their workers’ safety, several requirements will have to be met by employers and their employees under the new rule:

  • Employers will be required to provide training for all employees performing duties in work permitted spaces. Additional training will be required as job duties change, permits change, or as an employee’s performance shows deficiencies.
  • The rule says worksites should have trained personnel maintaining communication while a confined space is occupied. Verbal communication and signals such as pulling on ropes can be used between personnel and entrants.
  • Along with consistent communication, breathing apparatus will be required on site as well – one being worn in a confined space and another on standby with the trained personnel.

And for those workers who speak another language, the rule also requires employers to provide translations on possible hazards, Mullen said.


Photo above:  New training requirements will further protect workers’ safety and health in workspaces not designed for continuous occupancy.