An Update on the Proposed Changes to Rules About Working in Confined Spaces

Changes are on the horizon for any who work in and around confined spaces, such as tanks, storage bins and pipelines. OSHA already has held the requisite public hearings, as is the case when changes are proposed for standards and enactment is likely within the next year.  As all safety professionals know, that means a new training program must be developed.

As I review the proposed rule, one thing that stands out is the separation of general industry standards from construction standards, which has never been done before. There are four separate classifications of confined spaces and these four differ depending on which standard you are working under. OSHA’s intent for these classification standards was to guide employers to choose the most appropriate safety rules.

OSHA provides a summary of the rulemaking on its website:

OSHA is proposing a rule to protect employees from the hazards resulting from exposure to confined spaces in the construction industry. Under the proposed rule, employers would first determine whether there is a confined space at a job site. If there is a confined space, the employer would determine if there are existing or potential hazards in the space. If there are such hazards, the employer then would classify the space according to the physical and atmospheric hazards found in it. The four classifications are: Isolated-Hazard Confined Space, Controlled-Atmosphere Confined Space, Permit-Required Confined Space, and Continuous System-Permit-Required Confined Space. The proposed requirements for each type of confined space are tailored to control the different types of hazards.

For more information on the history of this proposed regulation and OSHA’s reasoning for this change, visit Confined Spaces in Construction; Proposed Rule - 72:67351-67425.

The bottom line for many is that documentation will need to be updated in written safety plans and training will need to take place. If this is part of your responsibilities, I suggest you review the changes and prepare accordingly.