National Association of Home Builders Settles Legal Dispute with OSHA over Confined Spaces Rule

Since confined spaces are not intended for employees to continuously occupy them and entrances and exits are limited, there was a concern, particularly on the part of the National Association of Home Builders, about safety standards there. This group litigated its disputes with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) over this concern. The OSHA responded by issuing 29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA to create a better and safer environment for those engaged in work in confined spaces.

This standard is primarily concerned with permit-required confined spaces. Permit-required confined spaces are confined spaces that pose a demonstrable threat, be it in the form of fire, suffocation or something else.

The standard requires that a competent person (someone capable of identifying possible dangers that a confined space may pose) pinpoints confined spaces where workers will be, in particular, permit-required confined spaces. Once permit-required confined spaces are found, the employer must notify workers, their representatives and contractors of dangers the space in question poses. The employer must then be vigilant to make sure that only authorized personnel enter these permit-required confined spaces.

Even when employers may enter the permit-required confined spaces, employers must take steps to isolate the physical hazards found within the space. And if these protocols fail, the employer must be able to demonstrate that employees trapped in a dangerous situation will be able to exit the space in ample time.

Of course, the standard is not only concerned with the well-being of workers, it also takes steps to protect people not involved in the project. Specifically, it asks that barriers be set up that prevent pedestrians from entering the space or being exposed to hazards from the space.

Employers also need to provide ventilation, communication, protective, emergency and lighting equipment, barriers, shields and ladders (and others—depending on particulars of the work space) to employees at no cost. Employers are also required to keep the equipment in good condition and to make sure that the employees themselves are using the equipment properly.

And a competent person’s okay to proceed with a project is not sufficient for an employer. Employers must continuously keep tabs on the space in case of the emergence or reappearance of any earlier threats.

The OSHA’s 29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA was issued to protect workers in confined spaces. The standard will help to make for more transparent and safe conditions for all involved.