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Weekly Toolbox Talk: New Rule for Confined Spaces

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Working in confined spaces can be pretty common in construction. If you’ve ever had to run conduit in a crawl space or install insulation in a cramped attic, you have worked in a confined space. If that crawl space or attic had some kind of hazard in it- such as volatile fumes from spry insulation or high temperatures caused by the heat of a summer afternoon, you may have worked in a permit required confined space.

Recently, OSHA developed a new confined space rule for construction. The fundamental concepts of confined space safety are still the same, but the new regulation gets specific about the hazards and how to control them. The new standard also explicitly includes crawl spaces and attics. Here are some things you should know about the new rule:

1. Communication between trades on the jobsite. The rule requires the “Controlling Contractor” to organize the work of subcontractors so hazards aren’t introduced into a confined space. For example, if insulation is being installed in a crawl space, you don’t want the flooring contractor finishing hardwood floors with a flammable stain lacquer. The vapors from the floor finish could create a breathing hazard or a fire hazard for the guys in the crawl space.

2. A competent person is required to evaluate the worksite and identify confined spaces and permit required confined spaces. Every confined space has to be marked and controlled even if people don’t need to go inside.

3. Permit-required confined spaces must have continuous atmospheric monitoring whenever possible. Monitoring should include oxygen level, hazardous gases, flammables, and stratified gases.

4. Continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards in permit-required confined spaces. For example, continuous monitoring would be needed when workers are repairing a tunnel and there is a possibility that water could enter the tunnel.

Sometimes an attic is just a hot, uncomfortable place to work. Other times you get up there, start working, and realize that you’re in real danger from hazards like high temperatures or exposed wiring. In such cases, leave the space immediately and have the competent person evaluate it. If necessary a confined space permit needs to be created to outline what you need to do and the equipment you need to have in order to get the job done without getting hurt, sick or killed. Don’t go back in especially if you’re the only person on the site. Getting the job done isn’t worth losing your life.