Updates to the OSHA Rules for Confined Spaces in Construction
Posted by Michael S. on March 18, 2016 in Contractor Focus

The confined spaces standard applying to general industries regulated by OSHA had long been the standard that also applied to construction. But on August 3, 2015, a new standard specific to construction became effective.


Why was the new standard created? According to Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, “This rule will save lives of construction workers. Unlike most general industry work sites, construction sites are continually evolving, with the number and characteristics of confined spaces changing as work progresses.” In fact, OSHA predicts the new rule will prevent 780 serious injuries and save the lives of five construction workers each year.


What defines a confined space? The new rule applies to any space that meets the following criteria:

  • The space is large enough for a worker to enter it.
  • The space has limited means of entry or exit.
  • The space is not designed for continuous occupancy.


Furthermore, the confined space requires a permit if any of the following is true:

  • It contains or has potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere.
  • It contains a material that has the potential to engulf a person.
  • It has an internal configuration that could cause a worker to become trapped or suffocate.
  • It contains any other serious safety or health hazard.


How is this rule different from the general industry rule? Naturally, the construction rule has much in common with the general industry rule. But the new rule focuses more closely on hazards that often exist specifically within the construction industry, such as low oxygen or the existence of explosive or toxic gases, vapors, or fumes. Some of the differences contained in the rule are:


  • More coordination of workers from multiple employers. Most construction job sites have workers from different employers, so this rule provides guidance on how the employers can assure all workers are aware of the confined spaces, the hazards within them, and who is authorized to enter. This coordinated communication reduces the chance of a hazard being introduced to the confined space by a worker performing a task nearby.
  • A competent person clause. As opposed to the general industry rule, which requires that the employer evaluate the work site and identify any confined spaces, the construction rule specifies that the evaluation be done by a competent person.
  • Continuous atmospheric monitoring must be done unless the employer doing the entry can show that the monitoring equipment is not commercially available or that the atmosphere does not require continuous monitoring and periodic monitoring is acceptable.
  • Continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards.
  • Allowing a permit to be suspended, rather than cancelled, if a disallowed condition arises, as long as it is temporary and does not change the space or introduce new hazards.
  • Requirement of an early warning system that continuously monitors for non-isolated engulfment hazards.
  • Requirement that employers provide safety training in a language and vocabulary that workers understand.


The confined spaces standard for construction, in the words of Dr. Michaels, “emphasizes training, continuous work site evaluation, and communication requirements to further protect workers’ safety and health.”


For more information and compliance assistance materials, please see OSHA’s Confined Spaces page at www.osha.gov/confinedspaces/.

Michael S.
Michael S. is a construction market analyst who has worked at ACUITY over 26 years. He has been heavily involved in the construction industry since 2009. His love for construction started at a young age, which motivated him to get more involved in construction business at ACUITY. In his spare time, Mike likes to be outside and enjoy nature by hiking and running. If he could pick any travel destination in the world it would be somewhere with trees, mountains, rivers, lakes, wildlife, and hiking trails.

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