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OSHA issues final confined space construction rule

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a final confined spaces rule Friday to increase protections for construction workers.

The rule, which is effective Aug. 3, 2015 affords construction workers laboring in confined spaces similar enhanced protections as manufacturing and general industry workers whose jobs take them into manholes, crawl spaces and several types of tanks. The rules are intended to protect construction workers against hazards that include exposure to toxic substances, electrocutions, explosions and asphyxiation.

According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction workers die at rate of 9.7 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, compared with a rate of 3.3 workers across all industries.

“This new rule will significantly improve the safety of construction workers who enter confined spaces,” Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said in a statement. “In fact, we estimate that it will prevent about 780 serious injuries every year.”

In addition to specifying the general conditions employers must maintain at a worksite, the regulations require that employers share vital safety information and continuously monitor hazards.

Moreover, OSHA has clarified five other requirements for companies in the construction industry including:

1. More detailed provisions regarding coordinated activities when there are multiple employers at the worksite

2. Requiring a competent person to evaluate the work site and identify confined spaces, including permit spaces.

3. Requiring continuous atmospheric monitoring whenever possible

4. Requiring continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards

5. Allowing for the suspension of a permit, instead of cancellation, in the event of changes from the entry conditions list on the permit or an unexpected event requiring evacuation of the space.

“Unlike most general industry worksites, construction sites are continually evolving, with the number and characteristics of confined spaces changing as work progresses,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor occupational safety and health, said in the statement.

“This rule emphasizes training, continuous worksite evaluation and communication requirements to further protect workers' safety and health.”

The maximum penalty OSHA can assess for failure to comply with the new rules is $7,000 for each serious violation and $70,000 for a repeated or willful violation.