Post #3 – In the previous post to the confined space training blog, I identified various OSHA standards governing confined space entry work for construction and general industry work (as well as the maritime industry). However, many of the terms used in these confined space standards are not well defined, if defined at all, whereas other parts of these standards are vague and seem to be open to interpretation. These issues often lead to uncertainty about whether or not you are in compliance with the requirements of the OSHA confined space entry standard.
Fortunately, OSHA provides many key documents that expand on their various confined space entry requirements, offering much needed information that helps clarify their standards. (Note: from this point forward in my blog posts, I will focus primarily on the OSHA confined space entry standard for general industry and construction, and not on the OSHA maritime regulations for confined spaces). The following is a recap of some of the more helpful OSHA documents.
Appendices to the OSHA 1910 Permit-required Confined Space Entry Standards
The permit-required confined space entry standard for general industry has several appendices that provide useful information when developing or evaluating your confined space entry program. Below is a listing of those appendices:
Currently, the Confined Spaces in Construction standards have no appendices. However, those provided with the general industry standard will also prove to be informative for people in the construction industry when setting up their permit-required confined space entry programs.
Federal Register Preambles to The OSHA Confined Space Entry Standard
When OSHA sets out to create a new or revised standard, they must first publish it in the form of a proposed rule in the Federal Register. This is done so interested parties can review the proposed standard and provide written or verbal feedback during a mandatory public comment period. Then, OSHA will review these comments for consideration when they formulate a final rule. When OSHA publishes the final rule, again in the Federal Register, that document includes not only the text of the new standard, but also a very valuable section of the preamble titled “Summary and Explanation of the Standard” (usually in section III). The preambles to the final confined space entry rules for construction and general industry are available for access at https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/preambles.
The “Summary and Explanation of the Standard” section of the preambles lists the verbiage of each paragraph of the proposed rule as it was originally written, comments, if any, submitted about each proposed paragraph gathered during the public comments period for the new or revised rule, and OSHA’s responses, if any, to those comments. The preamble also includes OSHA’s final reasoning and determination regarding any revisions to the final language of each paragraph of the final rule. It is in OSHA’s responses to those public comments that you can glean very valuable information about how OSHA interprets and/or plans to enforce each paragraph of a new or revised standard.
The preamble to the OSHA 1910 general industry permit-required confined space entry standard was published in Federal Register volume 58, number 9 on January 14, 1993, beginning on page 4462. The preamble to the 1926 Subpart AA confined spaces in construction rule was published in Federal Register volume 80, No. 85 on Monday, May 4, 2015. I will point out helpful information appearing in specific portions of these documents in many future blog posts.
OSHA Compliance Directive (CPL) for 1910.146 Permit-required Confined Space Entry Standard
OSHA occasionally issues a compliance directive (CPL) or standard directive (STD) on some of their more complex standards or policies. These directives are primarily intended to be used as instruments for OSHA compliance officers and directors to refer to during inspections, helping ensure uniform understanding and enforcement of the associated standard or policy.
On May 5th, 1995, OSHA issued Instruction CPL 2.100, which is a compliance directive on the subject of the “Application of the Permit-Required Confined Spaces (PRCS) Standard, 29 CFR 1910.146”. OSHA updated that particular CPL on September 1 of 2015. There is a wealth of information in the directive that employers and other interested persons can use to better understand how OSHA interprets and enforces the 1910.146 standard. And much of that same information can also be applied to the 1926 Subpart AA construction standard.
Letters of Interpretation – OSHA Confined Space Entry Standards for General Industry and Construction
OSHA receives thousands of inquiries about their various standards every year, with several of those posing questions about the OSHA confined space entry standards for construction or for general industry. In many cases, OSHA formally responds to those inquiries via a “letter of interpretation”, often referred to as a LOI. Because these letters of interpretation are considered public records, OSHA makes them available to the general public (like you and me) for review on their website.
The OSHA letters of interpretation for the 1910.146 general industry standards for permit-required confined space entry and for the 1926 Subpart AA confined spaces in construction standard are all accessed through OSHA’s LOI search page. Be aware that OSHA letters of interpretation for their confined space standards are only intended to apply to the specific circumstances discussed in that letter, and that they should not be applied to other circumstances, no matter how similar. Also, OSHA letters of interpretation are occasionally withdrawn because OSHA changed their mind; these letters will be marked as withdrawn, but are still available for reference as archived material.
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers (FAQs) for OSHA Confined Space Entry in Construction Standards
Anticipating questions about their (then) newly-promulgated 1926 Subpart AA confined spaces in construction standard, OSHA published on their website a “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) page about that standard. At the time of this post, there were more than 70 questions and associated answers available on the OSHA confined spaces in construction FAQ page. Readers can get a much better understanding of the OSHA confined space entry requirements not only for the construction industry from these FAQs, but also for many of the similar confined space requirements for general industry workplaces.
OSHA Confined Space Advisor
OSHA developed a resource titled “Confined Space Advisor” on their website. This online tool is essentially a decision flow chart that asks the user questions, and based on their answers, guides them through the various steps of identifying permit-required confined spaces, and subsequently, developing and implementing a permit-required confined space entry program.
The OSHA confined space advisor e-tool is pretty basic in its coverage, and in my opinion, does not adequately answer questions about all confined space entry standards and terms that are vague. However, it does, on occasion, clearly indicates how OSHA defines or interprets a few of them; in fact, there are a couple of instances where I incorporate information taken from the online advisor in the online confined space training courses available on our website.
State OSHA Standards and Requirements for Confined Space Entry
Last but not least; it would be remiss of me not to mention that several states and US territories have opted to form their own State Plan OSHA program, covering most private and public employers in some of these states, and just the public employers in other states. All of these State Plan OSHA programs are required to either adopt the equivalent of the Federal OSHA regulations, or develop and publish their own state regulations that meet or exceed the protections offered in the associated Federal OSHA standards.
In most cases, the Federal OSHA standards for confined space entry in construction and for general industry were adopted verbatim by the various State Plan programs (reference all State Plan program rules at https://www.osha.gov/stateplans/statestandards). However, a few of the state programs created similar standards with a few slight tweaks to reflect other state-specific standards referenced within their rules. For example, the confined space entry standards promulgated by the state of California State Plan program (often referred to as Cal-OSHA) are nearly the same as those published by Federal OSHA, although CA did utilize a different numbering system when they codified their standards. But in the definitions for a “hazardous atmosphere”, which is one of the triggers for classifying a confined space as “permit required”, the CA state rule is slightly different (see both definitions below):
DEFINITION (for both Federal and Cal-OSHA confined space entry standards) –
“Hazardous atmosphere means an atmosphere that may expose employees to the risk of death, incapacitation, impairment of ability to self-rescue (that is, escape unaided from a permit space), injury, or acute illness from one or more of the following causes:
FEDERAL OSHA –
(4) Atmospheric concentration of any substance for which a dose or a permissible exposure limit is published in subpart D of this part (Occupational Health and Environmental Control), or in subpart Z of this part (Toxic and Hazardous Substances), and which could result in employee exposure in excess of its dose or permissible exposure limit;
(4) Atmospheric concentration of any substance for which a dose or a permissible exposure limit is published in Article 4 of the Construction Safety Orders and Group 16 of the General Industry Safety Orders;”
This slight difference in language can make a huge difference in how these two varying standards are applied. For example, the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for carbon monoxide (CO) incorporated by reference in the 1910 Federal OSHA standard is 50 parts per million (PPM). However, the PEL for CO incorporated by reference in the Cal-OSHA state standard is only 25 PPM. This represents a big variance between the Federal and Cal-OSHA thresholds for when a confined space containing CO is considered to contain a hazardous atmosphere, and therefore classified as a permit-required confined space.
OSHA Confined Space Training Resources
In closing, remember that it is important to be thoroughly familiar with the language contained in the actual OSHA confined space entry standards that apply to your operations. However, there are also many other important OSHA documents available that provide a wealth of information and guidance on how these confined space standards should be interpreted, implemented, and ultimately enforced in the workplace. Links to the resources outlined above, as well as many other valuable resources for confined space entry programs, are available via the course materials tabs associated with the online confined space entry training certification courses for entry supervisors and the competent person offered on our website.
Final Note: Please help spread the word about our confined space entry training blog. Send a link to this blog post to others in your network who could benefit from this information. Thanks, Curtis