OSHA Issues New Safety Rule for Workers in Confined Spaces

May 7, 2015

Construction workers in confined spaces like manholes and tanks will come under a new federal rule intended to give them similar protections to workers in manufacturing and other industries.

The rule is being issued by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Officials say it will prevent about 800 serious injuries and deaths each year. It takes effect Aug. 3.

Workers in confined spaces face risks of exposure to toxic substances, electrocution, asphyxiation and explosions. Under the rule, multiple employers at a work site, such as contractors, will be required to share safety information and continuously monitor hazards. Safety training for workers and frequent assessment of work sites also will be required.

Officials say the rule likely would have prevented the deaths of two workers in Ohio last year who were overcome by fumes and asphyxiated while repairing leaks in a manhole.

Manholes, crawl spaces, tanks and other confined working spaces aren’t meant to be continuously occupied and can be difficult to get out of in an emergency, according to OSHA.

“All workers have the right to a safe and healthy workspace,” David Michaels, assistant labor secretary for occupational safety and health, told reporters in a conference call Friday. “Workers’ lives will be saved and serious injury prevented by this new rule.”

Kevin Cannon, Associated General Contractors of America’s senior director of safety and health services, acknowledges that the new regulation will protect workers, but says that some of its requirements could prove challenging for contractors.

For example, the rule places more responsibility on the controlling contractor for coordinating activities on multi-employer construction sites. That means if a subcontractor or other visitor on the site somehow introduces a hazard, the controlling contractor could be held liable, Cannon says.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.