Atmospheric Testing and the New OSHA Construction Confined Spaces Standard

In August 2015, OSHA’s new standard for “construction work” in confined spaces became effective.

This standard describes requirements for practices and procedures to protect employees engaged in construction activities at a work site with one or more confined spaces.

OSHA believed this needed to be put into effect because, previously, the only requirement for confined spaces in construction was training. OSHA concluded this was inadequate because injuries and fatalities continued to occur.

How does the new rule differ from the rules that previously applied to construction work performed in confined spaces? The rule requires employers to determine what kinds of spaces their workers are in, what hazards could be there, how those hazards should be made safe, what training workers should receive, and how to rescue those workers if anything goes wrong.

Many workplaces contain areas that are considered “confined spaces” because, while they are not necessarily designed for people, they are large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs.

Some examples of locations where confined spaces may occur include pits for elevators, escalators, pumps, valves, or other equipment; sewer, storm drain, electrical or other utility manholes; as well as boilers, tanks, storm drains, cesspools, silos, turbines, HVAC ducts, and chillers. A confined space like these may have poor natural ventilation that could contain or produce dangerous air contaminants.

According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program, fatal injuries in confined spaces fluctuated from a low of 81 in 1998 to a high of 100 in 2000 and averaged 92 fatalities per year during the five-year period. Confined spaces can present physical and atmospheric hazards that can be avoided if they are recognized and addressed prior to entering these spaces to perform work.

The new standard, Subpart AA of 29 CFR 1926, will help to prevent construction workers from being hurt or killed by eliminating and isolating hazards in confined spaces at construction sites.