The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a final rule to increase protections for construction workers in confined spaces.
The rule will provide construction workers with protections similar to those manufacturing and general industry workers already have.
Manholes, crawl spaces, tanks and other confined spaces are not intended for continuous occupancy and may also be difficult to exit in an emergency. OSHA says those working in confined spaces face life-threatening hazards including toxic substances, electrocutions, explosions and asphyxiation.
OSHA estimates that the rule will prevent about 780 serious injuries every year.
Last year, two workers in Georgetown, Idaho were asphyxiated while repairing leaks in a manhole, the second when he went down to save the first – which OSHA said is not uncommon in cases of asphyxiation in confined spaces.
“In the construction industry, entering confined spaces is often necessary, but fatalities like these don’t have to happen,” said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “This new rule will significantly improve the safety of construction workers who enter confined spaces. ”
The rule is intended to give construction workers protections like those already in effect for manufacturing and general industry workers, with some differences tailored to the construction industry. These include requirements to ensure that multiple employers share safety information and to continuously monitor hazards.
“This rule will save lives of construction workers,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Unlike most general industry worksites, construction sites are continually evolving, with the number and characteristics of confined spaces changing as work progresses. This rule emphasizes training, continuous worksite evaluation and communication requirements to further protect workers’ safety and health.”
The construction industry and unions generally favor the new rule, which reflects changes from proposals first issued in 2007 by the Bush Administration. They say many contractors already follow similar procedures.
Kevin Cannon, safety director with the Associated General Contractors of America, told Engineering News that the new regulation will protect workers but noted the controlling contractor will have more responsibility on multi-employer construction sites. He said that if a subcontractor or other visitor on the site somehow introduces a hazard, the controlling contractor could be held liable.
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