Small, enclosed areas of a home such as attics and crawl spaces present hazards for construction workers.
Small, enclosed areas of a home such as attics and crawl spaces present hazards for construction workers.

Confined spaces can kill. That's the message of a new OSHA rule that takes effect on Oct. 2.

Manholes, crawlspaces, attics, and other confined spaces can expose construction workers to life-threatening hazards such as toxic substances, electrocutions, explosions, and asphyxiation. Furthermore, they are difficult to exit in an emergency. The OSHA web site points to two recent incidents that illustrate the seriousness of the situation: Two workers died after being burned when an incandescent work lamp ignited vapors from primer they were applying to floor joists in a crawl space. And, a flash fire killed a worker who was spraying foam insulation in an enclosed attic with poor ventilation.

The new rule aims to prevent tragedies like these by providing construction workers with protections similar to those manufacturing and general industry workers have had for more than two decades. These include requirements to ensure that multiple employers share vital safety information and to continuously monitor hazards.  

“In the construction industry, entering confined spaces is often necessary, but fatalities like these don’t have to happen,” says Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “This new rule will significantly improve the safety of construction workers who enter confined spaces. In fact, we estimate that it will prevent about 780 serious injuries every year.”

OSHA defines confined spaces as any space that meets the following three criteria: Is large enough for a worker to enter it;  Has limited means of entry or exit; and  Is not designed for continuous occupancy. A space may also be a permit-required confined space if it has a hazardous atmosphere, the potential for engulfment or suffocation, a layout that might trap a worker through converging walls or a sloped floor, or any other serious safety or health hazard.

The new rule emphasizes training, continuous worksite evaluation, and communication requirements to protect workers’ safety and health. Compliance assistance material and additional information is available on OSHA’s Confined Spaces in Construction Web page.

In addition, an upcoming webinar will provide details about how to comply with the new rule that goes into effect with good faith enforcement beginning Aug. 3 and full enforcement on Oct. 2. This webcast, titled “Implementing the New Confined Space Standard for Construction” will be held on July 31 at 1 pm. Click here to register.