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OSHA New Confined Space Rule


ConfinedSpaceThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a final rule to increase protections for construction workers in confined spaces. Confined spaces are described by OSHA as spaces not designed for people yet large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs. They have limited or restricted means of entry or exit and are not designed for continuous occupancy. Those contractors working in the concrete foundation industry may see this as a developing change to the configuration of safety measures between the outer erected wall of formwork and the edge of an excavation. Presently, OSHA defines the minimum requirement for this distance as three (3) feet in Subpart P.

The final ruling states that “an estimated 6 fatalities and 812 injuries occur annually among employees involved in construction work in confined spaces addressed by the provisions of this rulemaking. Based on a review and analysis of the incident reports associated with the reported injuries and fatalities, OSHA expects full compliance with the final rule to prevent 96 percent of the relevant injuries and fatalities. Thus, OSHA estimates that the final rule will prevent approximately 5.2 fatalities and 780 additional injuries annually.”

“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. In fact, we estimate that it will prevent about 780 serious injuries every year.”

The rule will provide construction workers with protections similar to those manufacturing and general industry workers have had for more than two decades, with some differences tailored to the construction industry. These include requirements to ensure that multiple employers share vital safety information and to continuously monitor hazards — a safety option made possible by technological advances after the manufacturing and general industry standards were created.

“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.”

Any time OSHA issues a final rule that impacts the construction industry, the cost of construction begins to escalate and employers are both at risk for non-compliance as well as lower productivity due to changes in training, education or certification. Therefore, it is important to understand the implications and applications of such specific final rulings. In the case of this final ruling for confined space, OSHA has determined that it is not directly applicable to any excavation or trench that falls under subpart P of 1926. The final ruling on confined space states, “OSHA agrees that subpart P, and not this confined space standard, would apply to the construction of most house foundations in an excavated area until the contractor backfills the area adjacent to the foundation or otherwise covers the foundation or the other areas. “

Subpart P defines the regulations for construction work in excavations. A list of the requirements for confined space and excavation safety includes:

  • When forms or other structures are installed or constructed in an excavation so as to reduce the dimension measured from the forms or structure to the side of the excavation to 15 feet or less (measured at the bottom of the excavation), the excavation is considered to be a trench.
  • The bottom of the excavation, from the excavation face to the formwork or wall, must not be less than 2 feet wide.
  • A stairway, ladder, ramp or other safe means of egress shall be located in trench excavations that are 4 feet or more in depth so as to require no more than 25 feet of lateral travel for employees.
  • No employee shall be permitted underneath loads handled by lifting or digging equipment. Employees shall be required to stand away from any vehicle being loaded or unloaded to avoid being struck by any spillage or falling materials. Operators may remain in the cabs of vehicles being loaded or unloaded when the vehicles are equipped, in accordance with 1926.601(b)(6), to provide adequate protection for the operator during loading and unloading operations.
  • Employees shall be protected from excavated or other materials or equipment that could pose a hazard by falling or rolling into excavations. Protection shall be provided by placing and keeping such materials or equipment at least 2 feet from the edge of excavations, or by the use of retaining devices that are sufficient to prevent materials or equipment from falling or rolling into excavations, or by a combination of both if necessary.
  • Each employee in an excavation shall be protected from cave-ins by an adequate protective system designed in accordance with paragraph (b) or (c) of this section except when made entirely in rock; are less than 5 feet in depth and examined by a competent person to have no indication of a potential cave-in; or have a protective system present with capacity to resist all reasonably expected loads.
  • All simple slope excavations 20 feet or less in depth shall have a minimum allowable slope of 3⁄4:1 for Type A soil and 1:1 in Type B soil.
  • All benched excavations 20 feet or less in depth shall conform to maximum bench dimensions of 5 feet heights and 4 feet runs for Type A soil and 4 feet heights and 4 feet runs for Type B soil when cohesive.

More direction on confined space and excavations are made available in the complete 1926 subpart P online at

The final ruling on confined space does leave room for interpretation for house foundations stating, “however, depending on the particular circumstances at the worksite, once the backfill or other covering occurs, the area inside the foundation space could be a confined space subject to this final rule if it meets all of the criteria in the definition of a confined space in 1926.1201.” Therefore, the concrete foundation industry is still advised to understand the implications of this new confined space final ruling and the accompanying standard.

Compliance assistance material and additional information is also available on OSHA’s Confined Spaces.


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