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On November 28, 2007, OSHA published a proposed rule designed to increase the protection provided to construction employees working in confined spaces. The existing general industry standard for confined spaces does not apply to the construction industry. OSHA plans to extend the general industry standard to the construction industry but with the following seven significant changes–
- providing a step-by-step process explaining how to assess hazards, classify a confined space and to implement effective procedures to protect employees
- requiring the controlling contractor to coordinate entry operations among contractors who have employees in a confined space regardless of whether the controlling contractor has an employee in the confined space
- addressing work in confined spaces in which the hazard has not been isolated, in particular by allowing employers to establish an isolated-hazard confined space (IHCS) by isolating or eliminating all physical and atmospheric hazards in a confined space
- requiring continuous monitoring unless the employer demonstrates that periodic monitoring is sufficient
- implementing an explicit requirement for the entry supervisor to monitor the permit-required confined spaces’ conditions during entry
- not requiring a written plan if the employer maintains a copy of the standard at the worksite
- creating an early-warning requirement for upstream hazards in sewer-type spaces.
OSHA has asked for public comments in connection with this proposed standard. The comment period will remain open until January 28, 2008. Comments may be submitted by either: (1) posting the comments electronically through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov, (2) sending three copies to the OSHA Docket Office, Room N-2625, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210 or (3) faxing the comments to 202-693-1648.
In particular, OSHA requests comments in the following six areas–
- Should OSHA combine the excavation standard in subpart P with this proposed standard or does subpart P provide sufficient protection from confined-space hazards during excavation work? If the standards remain separate, OSHA requests comments on how to reconcile the difference in lower flammable limits (LFLs) between the excavation standard and this proposed standard.
- What means are available, other than electronic equipment, for an individual to effectively monitor multiple permit-required confined spaces while performing other assigned tasks without reducing the level of protection employees receive?
- What alternatives are available to retrieve employees from a permit-required confined space involving a vertical distance over five feet? In particular, OSHA wants to know if alternatives exist that would not occlude the space’s entrance.
- With respect to its provision on timely response to a rescue summons, OSHA defines “timeliness” as a function of how quickly a rescue service needs to reach an employee to prevent further serious physical harm that may result from hazards in the confined space while waiting to be rescued. OSHA wants to know if the definition should remain performance-based or should it specify an exact time.
- The proposed standard only requires employers to maintain controlled-atmosphere confined space (CACS) and IHCS verification documents until they complete the work in the confined space. Should this retention period be longer?
- Have employers experienced any difficulties with public-sector emergency services being unable to perform entry rescues in confined spaces that rapidly change in configuration during the construction process?