OSHA Delays Confined-Space Enforcement

MONDAY, JULY 13, 2015

WASHINGTON--Federal authorities have announced a temporary enforcement period to ease employers into full compliance with the upcoming new rules on confined-space work in construction.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's final rule on Confined Spaces in Construction was announced May 4 and takes effect Aug. 3, 2015.

On Thursday (July 9), however, the agency announced a 60-day temporary enforcement policy "in response to requests for additional time to train and acquire the equipment necessary to comply with the new standard."

Full enforcement of the new regulation will begin Oct. 2.

The rule has been in the works since March 1980, when OSHA issued the first advanced notice of proposed rulemaking.

Protecting Workers

The new rule will protect nearly 800 construction workers a year from death or serious injury, said OSHA.

The regulation matches protections implemented long ago in manufacturing, general industry and shipyard, while adding some new provisions tailored to the construction industry.

The temporary enforcement policy is not a stay. However, during the period, OSHA says it will not cite employers who are making good-faith efforts to comply with the new standard.

Indications of good-faith efforts include:

  • Scheduling training for employees as required by the new standard;
  • Ordering the equipment necessary to comply with the standard; and
  • Taking alternative measures to educate and protect employees from confined-space hazards.

Moreover, employers must be in full compliance immediately with the training requirements of either the new standard or the previous standard. Citations will be issued to employers who are not in compliance with either regulation.

Confined-Space Safety

The rule aims specifically to protect workers in tanks, sewers, attics, boilers, pits, manholes, crawl spaces and other tight areas not intended for continuous occupancy.


Confined spaces are those with limited entry unintended for longterm occupancy. They include tanks, crawl spaces, sewer systems and attics.

The agency has had a rule on permit-required confined spaces in General Industry since 1993, but the rule exempted construction and shipyards. The agency issued a shipyard directive for confined-space work in 2011.

Meanwhile, the only requirement for confined spaces in construction has been training.

OSHA "concluded this was inadequate as injuries and fatalities continued to occur," the agency said.

Key Changes...

The new rule has five key differences from the general-industry rule and clarifies several existing requirements.

In general, it requires employers to determine what kinds of spaces their workers are in, what hazards they could present, how to mitigate those hazards, and what training workers should receive.

The rule also requires rescue planning. Many confined-space accidents end up claiming the lives of the original victim's co-workers, who are overcome when they rush into a toxic space, untrained and ill-equipped, to attempt to rescue the victim.

USAF / Airman 1st Class Christopher Gross

Blayne Ross, a firefighter with Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, readies himself to be lowered into an underground jet fuel tank in a confined-space entry rescue drill. OSHA's new construction rule includes new mandates for rescue planning.

Specifically, the new rule:

  • Contains more detailed provisions requiring coordinated activities among multiple employers at the worksite;
  • Requires a competent person to evaluate the site and identify confined spaces;
  • Requires continuous atmospheric monitoring whenever possible;
  • Requires continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards; and
  • Allows for the suspension, rather than cancellation, of a permit if the entry conditions on the permit change or an unexpected event requires evacuation of the space.

Coordination, Communication

The coordination provisions are both critical and new, acknowledging that fatal lapses can occur on a worksite bustling with multiple trades and employers.

Now, multiple employers will be responsible for sharing safety information and continuously monitoring hazards.

That is designed to prevent, for example, one subcontractor from running a generator near the entrance of a confined space where another trade is working, inadvertently causing a building of carbon monoxide.

"Unlike most general industry worksites, construction sites are continually evolving, with the number and characteristics of confined spaces changing as work progresses," said Dr. David Michaels, the OSHA administrator.

"This rule emphasizes training, continuous worksite evaluation and communication requirements to further protect workers’ safety and health."

The Fine Points

New requirements for coordination of multiple employers make the controlling contractor, rather than the host employer, the primary point of contact for information about permit spaces at the work site.


The new rule details responsibilities and communications flow among multiple contractors on a single worksite.

The host employer must provide any information about on-site permit spaces to the controlling contractor, who then passes it on to the so-called "entry employers"—those whose employees actually enter the spaces. The host is also responsible for making sure that employers outside the space are aware of the work inside.

Entry employers, in turn, must inform the controlling contractor about their entry program and about any hazards they encounter. The controlling employer must pass the information back to the host and to other entry employers.

The new engulfment monitoring requirement envisions protection against, for example, upstream flash flooding that could endanger workers in a storm sewer. An electronic sensor or observer posted upstream from the work site could alert sewer workers at the first sign of a hazard, OSHA said.

The permit suspension option requires that the space be returned to the permitted entry conditions before re-entry.

Clarifications for General Industry

The new rule also clarifies existing requirements in the General Industry standard. These include requiring employers:

  • Who direct workers to enter a space without using a complete permit system to protect them by eliminating the hazard or isolating it through lockout/tagout or other methods;
  • Who rely on local emergency services to arrange with the service to notify the employer if the service will be unavailable for period of time; and
  • To provide training in a language and vocabulary that the worker understands.

The rule also defines several terms such as "entry employer" and "entry rescue."


OSHA issued a confined-space standard in 1993, but exempted construction. A shipyard directive was released in 2011. The construction rule has been 35 years in the making.

OSHA has also introduced new fact sheets on confined-space construction safety in crawl spaces and attics, pits and sewer systems.

Which Rule?

Employers who are engaged in construction work, such as building a new structure or upgrading an old one, must follow the new confined-space rule for construction.

That rule requires a written confined-space program if workers will be entering these spaces and restricts entry to workers who have been assigned to, and trained for, work in that space.

Employers whose workers are engaged in both construction and general industry will meet the requirements of both by following the construction rule.

The 27 OSHA-approved State Plans must enforce standards that are at least as stringent as federal OSHA's, but individual requirements may be different or even more stringent. Employers should check with their state plan for additional information.

For more information about the rule or compliance, visit OSHA's Confined Spaces page or contact Directorate of Construction, Room N3468, OSHA, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20210. Phone (202) 693-2020 or fax (202) 693-1689.

Anatomy of a Rule

The road to the rule has been exceptionally long.


OSHA's new construction rule requires a written confined-space program if workers will be entering these spaces and restricts entry to workers who have been assigned to, and trained for, such work.

After OSHA signaled its intention in 1980 to make the rule, it took 13 years for the agency to issue a standard—and that rule exempted the construction industry.

The United Steel Workers responded to the 1993 standard with a lawsuit demanding that the construction industry be included. OSHA agreed to work on a measure.

After seven years, stakeholder meetings for the construction measure were held in 2000. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking came in 2003.

In 2004, small business weighed in on the idea. The actual rule was finally proposed in 2007, and public hearings were held in 2008. There, the issue stalled, until now.

In 2011, Public Citizen estimated that the rule could have saved 189 lives and prevented nearly 19,000 injuries had it been issued in 1980.

Said Michaels, the OSHA administrator: "This rule will save the lives of construction workers."



Tagged categories: Certifications and standards; Confined space; Enforcement; Fatalities; General contractors; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Subcontractors; Tanks and vessels; Ventilation

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.