Guest Column | June 1, 2015

Confined Spaces In Construction: The New 29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA

Sheldon Primus

By Sheldon Primus

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has just released a new construction standard 29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA. This subpart is specifically designed to protect construction workers from confined space hazards that are not covered in Subpart P Excavations. Subpart AA became a final rule May 4, 2015 and will be in effect August 3, 2015 for the federal OSHA. However, OSHA State Plans, which govern utilities, will have six months from the effective date to adjust their plans to meet or exceed the federal OSHA standard.

Subpart AA is estimated to save “nearly 800 construction workers from serious injuries” and address conditions that are life-threatening (OSHA, 2015). OSHA’s rules for general industry and manufacturing have protected the workers through a confined space standard, but construction workers did not have that same protection. Construction workers can now be protected from confined space hazards, such as drowning, toxic substances, electrocutions, explosions, and asphyxiation. This rule covers the construction work of locations such as, bins, boiler, sewers, storm drains, electrical vaults, tanks, manholes, digesters, etc.

Here is an overview of the ruling with some compliance tips:

Classify The Confined Space Properly

In order to classify the confined space properly, the worker must first determine:

  1. Can someone fit into this space?
  2. Does this space have limited ways of access and egress?
  3. Was this space meant for continuous human occupancy?

If the answer is yes to those questions, then the space is a confined space by definition. The next determination is: Do I need a permit to enter this space? The answer is yes, if there is a recognized or suspected hazard in the space, then it is a Permit-Required Confined Space (PRCS). OSHA uses the following chart to identify hazards that will determine if a space is PRCS.

Choose The Appropriate Protection For The Hazards

Choosing the appropriate protection for each hazard can be achieved by a simple process known as a job hazard analysis (JHA). In the job hazard analysis, the workers will outline the steps for each job, then identify the hazard for that step, and finally choose a hazard control for the step. Many companies use the JHA for all jobs to reduce cost of accidents and illnesses. A PRCS JHA would help visualize the job in its entirety, so that the most effective controls will be utilized.

The key to an effective JHA is to have management commitment and employee participation with the beginning stages of the program. When the employees feel empowered by management to explore the different ways that a job can be performed, then consensus can be formed. This consensus will lead to a safer workplace with workers that are more aware of hazard and know how to control the identified hazards. 

Eliminate Hazards Whenever Possible

Some PRCSs can be reevaluated to not require a permit is hazards are eliminated. The control of hazards aren’t enough to remove the permit requirement from a PRCS, but eliminating a hazard will give cause to downgrade a space. Once the space gets downgraded (which can be done in-house by the competent person), then the workers will be free from a harmful environment (1926.1203(f)).  

Employers can use alternate procedures for entering a permitted space if they meet the criteria in 1926.1203(e)(1)-(2). However, these alternate procedures are determined by a competent person in confined space entries. The competent person will test the atmosphere, evaluate the space, and eliminate the hazards present.

Use The Confined Space Entry Permitting System As A Way To Protect The Workers

The permitting system is a way for the competent person, the attendees, and the authorized entrants to be on the same page regarding the space and the hazards associated with the entry. There must be proper communication and coordination before the PRCS entry 1926.1203 (h). Both the host employer and the contract employer are responsible for the safety of the workers in the confined spaces. Therefore, they must use a permit system which includes air monitoring, duty assignments, and other accountability measures. Elements of a compliant permit can be found in 1926.1206 of Subpart AA.  

Permits can be made by the employer without having a third party interfering with the confined space program (a program is required through 1926.1204). Each permit must be completed correctly and thoroughly detaining the work that is to be performed in that confined space. Each person that is involved in the PRCS can sign the permit, but the entry supervisor is required to sign the permit. Remember, the PRCS entry is when any part of the body breaks the plane of the opening.   

Train Workers

It is required that the employer provide training for each worker to ensure that the worker has the skills, knowledge, and awareness of the dangers of working in a confined space. This training must include:

  • Understanding hazards of working in a confined space
  • Methods to isolate, control, or protect workers from hazards
  • The dangers of attempting a rescue if you are not authorized

This training must be on the understanding and language level of the worker and the worker must be trained before they are first assigned to PRCS entry work. Retention of training records are required for the period of time that the employee is employed by the utility.

Other Considerations

The new standard also outlines a few other points to be aware of:

  • The duties of the authorized entrants 1926.1208
  • The duties of the attendants 1926.1209
  • The duties of the entry supervisor 1926.1210
  • Rescue and emergency services 1926.1211
    • Rescue must be made in a timely manner
    • Evaluation of the rescue service to determine proficiency
    • Training for in-house rescue teams
    • Annual simulated rescue operations
  • Employee participation 1926.1212

A PRCS entry is essential part on constructing components of a utility system and plant. However, through the dedication, training, and cooperation of all stakeholders, these entries can be completed in a safe and compliant manner.