Confined Space in Construction Update

In late 2015, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board adopted without changes the federal OSHA revisions affecting confined spaces in construction. Federal OSHA adopted the revisions out of concern that the general industry standard did not sufficiently protect construction workers, and pointed to several confined space fatalities in construction. The California version created a new standard, Construction Safety Orders §1950-1962.

The basic elements of the standard are the same as the general industry standard – employers are required to identify and evaluate the hazards of permit-required confined spaces before employees enter them; develop and implement safe practices for entry; prevent unauthorized entry; and develop effective procedures for summoning rescue and emergency personnel, to name a few. The construction standard applies to construction activities in existing facilities such as repairing or replacing structures and their components or performing maintenance projects.

Since construction operations often have multiple employers at the same site, the regulation adds a layer of multi-employer requirements. For example, before entry operations begin, the host employer (property owner or site manager) must provide the controlling contractor on the location with information on potential hazards of the confined spaces, as well as any precautions implemented for employee safety. This information is to be provided to each entity that will enter the space. The burden of ensuring compliance with the construction standard falls on the site’s host employer, which must ensure all parties are following OSHA regulations. Ultimately, though, it’s in everyone’s best interest to comply, as both contractors and the host employer can be cited for confined space violations under Cal/OSHA’s multi-employer policy.

The Confined Spaces in Construction standard doesn’t apply to excavations, which are regulated by §1539-1547, except when workers have to enter a confined space (such as a pipe) within the excavation. In that case, instead of following the Excavation standard the contractor must follow the more stringent Confined Spaces in Construction standard.

The Confined Space in Construction Standard requires the presence of a competent person onsite if a confined space will be entered. A competent person is defined in 8 CCR §1504 and is defined as one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them. 8 CCR §1952 requires that before an employer begins work at a worksite, they shall ensure that a competent person identifies all confined spaces in which one or more of the employees it directs may work, and identifies each space that is a permit space, through consideration and evaluation of the elements of that space, including testing as necessary. When there are changes in the use or configuration of a non-permit confined space that might increase the hazards to entrants, or some indication that the initial evaluation of the space may not have been adequate, each entry employer shall have a competent person reevaluate that space and, if necessary, reclassify it as a permit-required confined space. According to 1952(g) a space classified by an employer as a permit-required confined space may only be reclassified as a non-permit confined space when the competent person determines that all of the applicable requirements to downgrade the space have been met.

The construction standard also requires the following that were not part of the general industry standard:

  • Continuous atmospheric testing be performed in permit spaces unless it can be demonstrated that continuous monitoring equipment is not available or periodic monitoring is efficient. The atmospheric monitoring must show that continuous forced air ventilation is preventing the creation of a hazardous atmosphere in the space.
  • Continuous monitoring for engulfment hazards.
  • Suspension of an entry permit when an event occurs requiring the space to be evacuated.

Employers are required to provide training in a language that the worker understands. This verbiage is similar to Cal/OSHA’s IIPP requirements. Employers who are relying on local emergency services for onsite emergency services must coordinate with the emergency services and be given notice when the services will not be available. In 2017 the Cal/OSHA Technical Advisory Committee had drafted “clean up” revisions to the standard on definitions, general requirements, permit entry communication and coordination, issuing permits and training. However, it doesn’t appear the changes were adopted. The Cohen Group can assist you with confined space issues at the jobsite.