The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) issues regulations on working in confined spaces, which are a critical aspect of workplace safety. Confined spaces, such as tanks, vessels, vaults, and pits, are not designed for continuous occupancy and can be difficult to exit in the event of an emergency. Thankfully, OSHA has promulgated regulations to help mitigate the risks associated with work in a confined space.
A confined space, is defined by OSHA’s standard for confined spaces, 29 CFR 1910.146, as:
(i) large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work; (ii) has limited or restricted means for entry or exit (for example, tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, and pits are spaces that may have limited means of entry.); and (iii) is not designed for continuous employee occupancy.
These spaces may present a range of hazards including toxic atmosphere, oxygen deficiency, flammable gases, or the potential for engulfment. Key standards promulgated by OSHA regarding confined spaces include:
Hazard Identification: Employers must evaluate all confined spaces where employees may work to determine if they are permit-required confined spaces (“PRCS”). A PRCS has one or more of the following: a hazardous atmosphere, material that could engulf a worker, walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area which could trap or asphyxiate, and other safety or health hazards like unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, or heat stress.
Entry Permit: The entry permit is the cornerstone of the confined space entry program. It includes information like the space to be entered, the purpose of entry, the date and authorized duration of the entry permit, and the names of authorized entrants.
Training: OSHA requires training for all employees who work in or around confined spaces. This training must include recognizing confined space hazards, understanding entry procedures, and knowing emergency response procedures.
Emergency Response and Rescue: Employers must develop and implement procedures for rescuing employees from confined spaces. This includes providing necessary rescue and emergency equipment and training employees in its use.
OSHA’s guidelines emphasize the need for continuous air monitoring, proper ventilation, isolation of energy sources (lockout/tagout), and providing personal protective equipment (PPE). Employers must ensure that all safety measures are in place before allowing employees to enter a confined space.
Workers have the right to receive information and training in a language they understand, to participate in safety and health programs, and to review records of work-related injuries and illnesses. Employees are responsible for following the safety and health rules and practices for their job, reporting hazardous conditions, and reporting job-related injuries and illnesses.
OSHA’s confined space regulations are vital for safeguarding workers from the unique risks presented by these environments. Compliance with these rules is not only a legal requirement but a moral imperative to ensure the safety and health of workers. If an employer fails to comply with OSHA’s rules and regulations regarding confined spaces, the tragedy of an accident causing injury or death is, with enough time, inevitable.
If a worker is injured or killed while working in a confined space, the worker or their surviving family must understand their rights. If you or someone you know has been injured or killed in a workplace accident, it is important to contact a lawyer to discuss your legal options. A lawyer can help you investigate the accident to determine who was responsible. Those touched by a work accident should know their legal rights and remedies, and act quickly to preserve them. Our attorneys have extensive experience in cases involving personal injury and wrongful death, including those involving confined spaces. The firm has experience in courts across the country and the skills needed to represent the families of loved ones who have lost their lives or been seriously injured.