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ASSE Engineers Raise Concern Over OSHA's Proposed Rule
March 7, 2008

In a letter sent recently to the Assistant Secretary of Labor, Edwin G. Foulke, Jr., the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) said the proposed rule on Confined Spaces in Construction recently published by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is unduly complicated, introduces unnecessary new terminology and requirements that are burdensome, and fails to recognize current safety practices that have proven successful in practice both in general industry and in construction.

“These comments reflect the front-line experience of our members who strive to help protect workers on job sites across the country in all industries, including construction,” ASSE President Michael W. Thompson, CSP, said in the letter. “They also reflect the expertise of the members of the ANSI Z117 Accredited Standards Committee for Confined Space Entry, for which ASSE serves as the Secretariat.”

Further, rather than adding clarity or advancing safety consistent with current industry safety practices, Mr. Thompson wrote, the changes offered in this proposed rule instead add a new level of complexity to the work of our members and employers while adding little new to the approaches already successfully being used to address confined space risks. It also fails to address important confined space topics including harmonization of confined space classifications, hazard assessment, assignment of responsibilities, and the continued allowance of a chest harness as part of a vertical confined space rescue effort.

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) “Confined Space” refers to a space which by design has limited openings for entry and exit, unfavorable natural ventilation which could contain or produce dangerous air contaminants, and which is not intended for continuous employee occupancy. Confined spaces include but are not limited to storage tanks, compartments of ships, process vessels, pits, silos, vats, degreasers, reaction vessels, boilers, ventilation and exhaust ducts, sewers, tunnels, underground utility vaults, and pipelines.

Mr. Thompson was also concerned that this rule is not in harmony with the widely accepted Z117.1-2003 consensus standard Safety Requirements for Confined Spaces. A comparison of Z117.1 to the proposed rule demonstrates that the existing General Industry regulations together with Z117.1 does have the necessary scope, breadth and detail to help employers manage successfully confined space safety matters within the construction industry. It is apparent that the standards used in OSHA’s evaluations were outdated 1977 and 1989 standards no longer affirmed by the Z117 Committee. The Committee published 1995 and 2003 editions that have been used by OSHA to support over 50 general duty clause citations issued by compliance officers to employers.

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