by Dan Glucksman ISEA

 Confined space

Workers in underground tunnels, tanks, and crawl spaces contend with unique hazards, including explosions, asphyxiation and contact with toxic materials. New regulations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) address those hazards by creating new protections for workers in confined spaces during any type of construction.

Parts of the new rule address the personal protection equipment (PPE) used by workers use in confined spaces. Employers will need to comply with the following when the rule goes into effect on Aug. 3, 2015:

  • Gas detection equipment is PPE. Under the new rule, testing and monitoring equipment has similar requirements as PPE. These devices must be provided by employers at no cost to the employees, and the employer must maintain these devices, and train employees to use them properly.
  • Workers must wear harnesses, in most cases. The new rule requires workers in confined spaces to wear “a chest or full-body harness, with a retrieval line attached at the center of the entrant’s back near shoulder level, above the entrant’s head, or at another point which the employer can establish presents a profile small enough for the successful removal of the entrant.” An exception is made only if employers can demonstrate that wearing a harness creates a greater hazard than wearing wristlets and anklets.
  • A retrieval device must be present. When workers need to be hoisted from a distance of more than five feet, a mechanical device must be available to retrieve personnel. Technically, no mechanical device is required for distances under five feet. However, the question remains: many rescuers can lift another person vertically several feet off the ground, especially through a narrow opening? OSHA acknowledged this in the rule with the caveat, “nothing in this standard, however, precludes use of mechanical retrieval devices for retrievals from heights of less than five feet.”

Rescue Planning and Employee Participation

Although not directly related to PPE, the OSHA rule also address rescue efforts. Before work begins in confined spaces, the new rule requires employers to have an emergency rescue plan. This could mean training a ‘volunteer’ corps of workers to react quickly when something goes wrong. Or it could mean making arrangements with local fire and rescue services.

The rule also requires cooperation with employees. Specifically, “employers must consult with affected employees and their authorized representatives on the development and implementation of all aspects of the permit space program…” Practically speaking, this means employers will have to sit down with employees and discuss their emergency plan. Moreover, to be in compliance, employers will have to document the steps they’ve made to consult with employees.

For more on the confined space rule, visit www.osha.gov/SLTC/confinedspaces