Hazards of Confined Spaces Continue to Raise Concern

confineThe hazards of confined spaces continue to make headlines, and this month has been no exception. OSHA’s ruling last year has been priority as confined spaces in construction present physical and atmospheric hazards that can be avoided if they are recognized and addressed prior to entering these spaces to perform work. People working in confined spaces face life-threatening hazards including toxic substances, electrocutions, explosions, and asphyxiation.

Recently, OSHA’s Chicago North Area Office cited a plumbing company for one willful and one repeated safety violation for not providing cave-in protection or a safe means of exit for employees installing a water line in a trench more than 6 feet deep.

OSHA’s final rule on confined spaces, which was issued a year ago, addresses the hazards of construction workers who work in areas that have limited means of entry and exit and are not designed for continuous occupancy.

Examples of where confined spaces can occur include  elevator, escalator, pump, valve or other manholes (such as sewer, storm drain, electrical, communication, or other utility tanks; incinerators; scrubbers; concrete pier columns; sewers; transformer vaults; heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) ducts; storm drains; water mains; precast concrete and other pre-formed manhole units; drilled shafts; enclosed beams; vessels; and lift stations.

The ruling specifically addresses the construction industry to ensure that multiple employers share vital safety information and to continuously monitor hazards.

The OSHA website outlines the 5 key new requirements:

  1. More detailed provisions requiring coordinated activities when there are multiple employers at the worksite. This will ensure hazards are not introduced into a confined space by workers performing tasks outside the space. An example would be a generator running near the entrance of a 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 space must be returned to the entry conditions listed on the permit before re-entry.

According to OSHA, factors that indicate employers are making good faith efforts to comply include: scheduling training for employees as required by the new standard; ordering the equipment necessary to comply with the new standard; and taking alternative measures to educate and protect employees from confined space hazards.

For more information on construction safety, contact Diversified Safety Services.





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