Post #5 – The success of an organization’s confined space entry program is ultimately predicated on having a competent person with the ability to identify and evaluate the confined spaces at their work sites to determine whether or not they meet the OSHA definition of a permit-required confined space. And that takes a person with sufficient training and experience to do the job right. But exactly whose job is it to identify and evaluate confined spaces?
Here’s what the OSHA confined space regulations say about that.
OSHA Requirements to Evaluate Confined Spaces
The first paragraphs from the general requirements sections of the OSHA confined space entry standards for general industry and construction, respectively, are listed below:
1910.146(c)(1) – The employer shall evaluate the workplace to determine if any spaces are permit-required confined spaces.
1926.1203(a) – Before it begins work at a worksite, each employer must ensure that a competent person identifies all confined spaces in which one or more of the employees it directs may work, and identifies each space that is a permit space, through consideration and evaluation of the elements of that space, including testing as necessary.
As you see, both of these performance-based confined space standards place the onus on employers, either individually or through a designated Competent Person, to evaluate their workplaces to determine if any confined spaces are present. Then, they must determine if any of those confined spaces are to be categorized as a permit required confined space, or alternatively, as a non-permit-required confined space.
Special Qualifications or Certifications Needed to Evaluate Confined Spaces?
While OSHA requires employers to ensure the confined spaces at their worksites are identified and evaluated, their standards do NOT require the completion of any specific training class or “competent person certification” for confined spaces for the person conducting the evaluations. Instead, an OSHA compliance officer would simply speak with whomever the employer has appointed as their competent person to perform the confined space evaluations, and determine if they seem to have adequate experience, training certification, and knowledge needed to do the job competently.
Duties of the Competent Person Evaluating Confined Spaces
The competent person who is designated to evaluate the confined spaces at a worksite to determine whether or not they are permit spaces must be capable of effectively performing the following three tasks for the worksite in question:
- Identify all confined spaces at the worksite after consideration of all facets of the OSHA definition of a confined space;
- Determine if each confined space identified at the site will be categorized as a permit-required confined space, or as a non-permit confined space;
- When conditions demand, re-evaluate (and possible reclassify) a non-permit confined space, should the configuration of that space change in a manner that could cause it to become a permit-required confined space (especially true during progression of the construction process when building a confined space such as a tank). Re-evaluation of a non-permit required confined space must also be performed every time there is a work process or activity taking place inside of, or near, any non-permit confined space which could potentially introduce new hazards that require the non-permit space be reclassified as a permit-required confined space.
In many cases, an employer also will have the person designated as their competent person for confined space identification to serve as the entry supervisor for their confined space entry crew. However, doing so is not a strict requirement of the confined space standards, as those two roles could be filled by different personnel.
OSHA Documentation Requirements for Confined Space Evaluations
In case you were wondering, there is no requirement in the federal OSHA confined space entry standards requiring the employer to document their confined space evaluations; however, some employers may choose to do so anyway.
Identifying Permit-Required Confined Spaces at Multi-employer Worksites
OSHA gives employers working at a multi-employer job-site such as but not limited to construction sites the option to collaborate on identifying permit spaces at a worksite, by agreeing to use one designated competent person to perform the initial surveys. Or they can choose to use their own designated competent person to perform the surveys. But either way, each employer who has an employee who will enter into a confined space is ultimately responsible for compliance with the requirements of the OSHA confined space entry standards, and must therefore utilize due diligent before deciding to count on another employer’s competent person to perform the evaluations.
Designation of a Person Competent to Identify Permit-required Confined Spaces
Obviously, the wide variety in types of confined spaces and the assortment of potential hazards inside of those spaces will vary greatly from site to site. So, a competent person with training and experience in dealing with only one specific type of confined space may be capable of evaluating the spaces in a worksite if it only contains the same types of spaces with which they are already familiar. But that same person may or may not be suitable for evaluating the confined spaces of a type they have not experienced before. Only the employer can decide, based upon his or her knowledge of, and experience with permit required confined spaces, who is adequately prepared and able to be designated as being their competent person responsible for identifying permit-required confined spaces at the workplace.
Coming up in the next blog post (#6); we will start a deep dive into understanding the OSHA definition of a confined space.
Final Note: Thanks for reading the blog. Please help spread the word about our confined space entry training blog by sending a link to the blog to others in your network who could benefit from this information. Thanks – Curtis
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