OSHA’s new Crystalline Silica Rule has created a lot of dialogue in our industry, with companies trying their best to figure out how to implement and interpret the new standard.

However, there does not appear to be the same level of awareness about the fact that OSHA has also created a new Confined Spaces in Construction standard, 29 CFR 1926 subpart AA, which started being enforced in late 2015. What I am finding out in the field is that many companies are still not aware that this “new” standard even exists, and think that if their employees have prior confined space training, they are covered. That might not be the case, especially if the work being performed is on a construction site.

“We already had a confined space standard, why did we need another one?”

OSHA realized that there were some unique challenges in dealing with confined spaces on construction sites, and sought to create a standard that was more in line with those issues. We now have two confined space standards, one for General Industry (Part 1910.146) and one for Construction. Think of someone going into an existing elevator shaft to perform maintenance activities, that would be covered by the General Industry standard (in most cases). Someone working in a new manhole installation on a construction site, is covered by the new subpart AA standard.

“What is different about this new Confined Space standard?”

There are several new requirements included in this standard. Work site evaluation and confined space identification, training for employees in a language that they understand, and specific Emergency Response Programs for Permit Required Confined Spaces are just a few. Also included are new definitions for those involved in these activities, including Host Employer (the employer that owns or manages the property), Controlling Contractor (the employer that has overall responsibility for construction at the jobsite), and Entry Employer(any employer who decides that an employee it directs will enter a Permit Required Confined Space). In addition, each of these employer roles mentioned above have distinct responsibilities outlined in the subpart AA standard. For example, the Host and Controlling Contractor are to coordinate entry activities among all parties involved in entry work, to avoid any Entry Employer’s activities potentially endangering another entry operation.

Confined space injuries and fatalities continue to be a real risk for those involved in entry work. Per OSHA, there were 431 confined space incidents with 530 fatalities in the US due to oxygen deficient and/or toxic atmospheres from 1992-2005. This standard seeks to improve worker safety while addressing the challenges and dangers of working with Confined Spaces in a construction setting.

If your employees are working near or in Confined Spaces on construction sites, or you have them on your jobsite, you need to be aware of this new standard and understand the implications for your company so you can make sure you and your employees are working safely and are in compliance.