The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released last year a long-awaited final rule affecting the training requirements for employees working in confined spaces in construction. The rule, which took effect August 2015, adds a new subpart to the existing rule and includes a permit program designed to protect employees from exposure to hazards in confined spaces including physical and atmospheric hazards.
According to Don Graham, director of safety at Jensen Precast and NPCA Safety, Health and Environmental Committee board liaison, the rule applies to all precasters who do any work in the field from coating to installation.
“It affects precasters because the new standard requires a competent person to determine if it is a confined space and the hazards that may be faced by the employee entering and exiting,” Graham said. “Confined spaces are no joke as one cut corner or slip can result in a death of a person entering the space. It’s important the rule and training are taken seriously by all employees.”
Permit-required confined spaces
Under the new rule, precasters must determine if spaces are classified as confined spaces and/or permit-required confined spaces. Many precast workplaces contain locations that are considered to be confined spaces. As outlined in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.146, a confined space is:
- Large enough for an employee to enter fully and perform assigned work
- Limited or restricted with regard to entry and exit
- Not designed for continuous employee occupancy
Confined spaces at precast plants may include vaults, tanks, storage bins, pits, cement/fly ash silos, storage vessels and other similar areas. The term “permit-required confined space” refers to spaces that meet OSHA’s definition of a confined space and contain additional health or safety hazards. If a workplace contains permit spaces, the employer must inform employees of its existence, location and potential hazards. This can be done by posting signs near the area such as “Danger Confined Space – Authorized Entrants Only” or using an equally effective means. If employees are expected to enter permit spaces, the employer must develop a written permit and make it available to employees. However, if employees should not enter permit spaces, employers must take effective measures to prevent them.
An employer’s written program may include procedures for:
- Identifying and evaluating hazards prior to permit space entry
- Performing appropriate testing for atmospheric hazards such as oxygen, combustible gases or vapors and toxic gases or vapors
- Establishing and implementing procedures and practices for eliminating or controlling hazards
- Providing and maintaining personal protective equipment and requiring employees to use it
- Ensuring at least one attendant is stationed outside the permit space for the duration of entry operations
- Implementing appropriate procedures for summoning rescue and emergency services and preventing unauthorized personnel from attempting rescue
- Establishing and implementing a system for preparation, issue, use and cancellation of entry permits
Monitoring workers in confined spaces
Two major factors that often lead to fatal injuries in confined spaces include failure to recognize and control hazards associated with confined spaces, and inadequate or incorrect emergency response. Graham said many times casualties or deaths occur in confined spaces when a coworker enters a space to rescue an employee.
At Jensen Precast, continuous monitoring is required on all confined space entries. A multi-gas detector is used for initial testing and monitoring. When an emergency occurs, a self-rescue is made using a tripod and harness. And if a rescue is required, the local fire department is contacted prior to the confined space entry.
“If the local fire department cannot perform a rescue than the precaster can either train a confined space rescue crew or contract with a commercial confined space recovery company,” Graham said.
Confined space training
According to OSHA, confined space work is one of the leading causes for occupational fatalities in the U.S. A big part of that comes from workers not being trained of the potential hazards that can be lurking within a space. The standard states employers must provide training to each employee so they gain the skills necessary for safe performance. As a result, the trainee understands the potential hazards in the permit space and methods to isolate, control and protect employees from those hazards. Graham said while training frequency is not mentioned in the standard, reviewing these key points regularly is important.
“At Jensen, we do confined space training every 18 months for the entrant, attendant and the supervisor,” Graham said. “This has helped our employees remain injury free because they are reminded regularly about the importance confined space safety is for everyone in the plant.”