While OSHA has had regulations concerning confined spaces for some time, the Agency recently released a new fact sheet entitled “Confined Spaces in Residential Construction,” to best explain its confined spaces standards affecting residential construction areas like attics, basements, or crawl spaces. This guidance comes as a redoubling effort to protect residential construction workers from common issues that plague confined-space work like hazardous atmospheres or workers falling, being crushed, or drowning.
OSHA has developed a standard for Confined Spaces in Construction (29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA) that applies to spaces meeting the following criteria:
- "Is large enough for a worker to enter it;
- Has limited or restricted means of entry or exit; and
- Is not designed for continuous occupancy."
A confined space that contains certain hazardous conditions may be considered a permit-required confined space under the standard, which means there are heightened danger considerations. A permit-required confined space means the space has one or more of the following:
- “Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere;
- Contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant;
- Has an internal configuration such that an entrant could be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor which slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section; and/or
- Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard.”
Although these types of confined spaces do exist in residential construction, the vast majority of attics, basements, and crawl spaces do not typically trigger permit requirements.
- Ensure that a competent person identifies all confined spaces in which directed employees may work and identifies all permit-required spaces. You are not required to physically examine each attic, basement, or crawl space if your competent person can reasonably and reliably determine a space’s configuration (ex. of a homebuilder building 50 identical houses; no need to check every attic with the same specifications);
- Check for extreme heat in attics (due to heat exhaustion disabling an employee’s ability to exit) or exposed active electrical wire in crawl spaces, as these may make them permit-required spaces;
- Determine who is the host (owns or manages the property), controlling (manages overall responsibility for construction site), and/or entry employer (decides that an employee it directs will enter a permit-required confined space), as these designations determine specific information-sharing or supervisory obligations under OSHA standards.
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