Fourteen years in the making, OSHA’s newly proposed, confined space standard for construction is expected to save six lives and prevent 880 injuries a year. Offering general support for the proposal, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) provided written comments on February 28. OSHA will now move to finalize the standard, a process that could take several years.

“In general, we think the proposed standard, though long overdue, is a good one,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, who submitted comments after a review of the proposal by the LHSFNA. “We especially highlight one of its unique provisions: not only workers who are directly involved with the confined space but also anyone else who may be in the area (other workers, subcontractors, etc.) must receive confined space training. This is because about 60 percent of all confined space fatalities are ‘would-be rescuers’ – heroic people, usually co-workers, who enter confined spaces in attempts to save those who have been overtaken by the hazards.

While praising the thrust of the proposed standard, O’Sullivan offered a number of significant recommendations on behalf of LIUNA.


He urged the agency to include fire and crush hazards along with engulfment among the physical hazards defined by the standard.


He also criticized the plan for deviating from the simpler classification scheme of the confined space standard for general industry. “I believe the proposed rule will be confusing and not feasible in the construction industry. The general industry standard, with two classifications, either permit-required or non-permit-required, is sufficient. Adding two additional classifications may cause more harm than good, leading contractors to ignore a rule they find to be too complex.”

Rescue and Emergency Procedures

O’Sullivan also asked OSHA to clarify who has the responsibility for summoning rescue personnel, an issue addressed in the general industry standard (1910.146(k)). He recommended, “Rescue and emergency procedures should be part of a required written program. All workers should be trained in proper rescue and emergency procedures.”

Competent Person

He recommended that companies be required to appoint a competent person to manage their confined space operations, including:

  • Classification of confined spaces
  • Determination of hazards
  • Supervision of confined space policies and procedures
  • Air monitoring and testing
  • Use and calibration of monitoring equipment
  • Determination and evaluation of ventilation and other controls

“The competent person requirement was created for the construction industry,” he said, “and, since this proposed standard is specific to construction, a competent person should be required throughout.”

Written Program and Decision Flow Chart

As in the general industry standard, OSHA should also require a written program so that everyone on the jobsite has a clear idea of what is required as well as their particular roles and responsibilities. O’Sullivan urged the agency to require companies to have a decision flow chart and pre-entry checklist to assess confined space entry situations.

Long Overdue

While generally praising the proposed standard, O’Sullivan pointed out that it is long overdue. When OSHA, reacting to a law suit, adopted its general industry standard in 1993 (which exempted construction from coverage), it promised to develop a construction-specific version in 1994. However, no action was taken. Data indicate that at least 80 construction workers have died in confined space tragedies in the interval. “This delay of 14 years was tragic and unnecessary,” said O’Sullivan.

For more information on the proposed standard, contact the LHSFNA’s OSH Division at 202-628-5465. The Fund publishes a Confined Spaces health alert that is useful for toolbox talks and other onsite hazard reviews. It is available through the online Publications Catalogue.

[Steve Clark]