Update on Cal/OSHA Confined Space Standard

Nancy Gonzalez, MS

In August of 2015, Federal OSHA established a new standard for construction work in confined spaces. The new standard is to be applied to any construction site with confined spaces, which is defined as a space 1) large enough that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work 2) having limited or restricted means for entry or exit, and 3) not designed for continuous employee occupancy.  The new Cal/OSHA standard can be found in Title 8 California Code of Regulations Sections 1950 to 1962.  The Cohen Group has received numerous inquiries requiring compliance with this standard.  The purpose of this article is to summarize the standard and respond to the questions we commonly receive.

A confined space that contains certain hazardous conditions may be considered a permit-required confined space under the new standard.  A permit-required confined space (permit space) means a confined space that has one or more of the following characteristics; 1) contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere, 2) contain a material that has the potential for engulfing the entrant, 3) has an internal configuration such that an entrant could be trapped, or 4) contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard.

Spaces in residential properties may be considered confined spaces or permit-required confined spaces during the construction or remodeling process.  The standard’s requirements only apply to permit-required confined spaces, attics, basements, and crawl spaces in a residential home.  Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) must be maintained to fully assess potential hazards prior to worker entry into a confined space to determine whether it is a permit-required space.

The standard makes the controlling contractor the main contact for information regarding permit-required confined spaces at the work site. Host employers and controlling contractors need to provide the following information before employee entry commences: 1) location of each known permit-required confined spaces, 2) hazards or potential hazards in each space or the reason it is a permit-required confined space; and 3) any precautions that the host employer or any previous controlling contractor/entry employer implemented for the protection of workers in the permit-required confined space.  Other entry employer requirements found in the standard include

  1. If a workplace contains a permit-required confined space, the entry employer must inform workers of each space and the location.
  2. When engineering and work-practice controls do not adequately protect employees, they must assess the space to determine what personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed to protect workers.
  3. Entry employers must train workers involved in permit-required confined space operations so that they can perform their duties safely and understand the hazards in permit spaces and the methods used to isolate, control or protect workers.
  4. The permit-required confined space program must establish a system for preparing, using, and canceling entry permits, which are written or printed documents that allow and control entry into permit spaces.
  5. Entry employers must ensure that properly trained rescue and emergency services are available before entry into permit-required confined spaces.