ASSE Suggest Changes To Proposed Confined Space Standard

American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) member Gary Lopez, CSP, suggested changes for OSHA’s proposed Confined Spaces in Construction Standard, a rule he said is complicated, introduces unnecessary new terminology, inadequately addresses several important confined space issues and fails to recognize current, widely understood safety practices.

Lopez, senior director of safety for Ranger Construction Industries Inc. in West Palm Beach, Fla., a former member of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z117 Accredited Standards Committee for Confined Space Entry and current chair of the ASSE standards development committee, testified on the proposed rule during an informal July 22 public hearing at the U.S. Department of Labor.

“What concerns me is what I fear may be a lack of full appreciation of the on-the-job realities ASSE’s members face every day as they strive to help workers protect themselves when entering confined spaces,” Lopez said. “I firmly believe that, if the writers of this proposed rule were in our shoes, they would have assumed a new way of looking at construction confined spaces separately from general industry – with new classifications, new terminology, new requirements – was not the way to address the confined space risks viewed as unique to the construction industry.”

He also noted the rule is not in harmony with the Z117.1-2003 voluntary consensus standard currently widely adopted throughout both general industry and construction and among safety and health professionals managing confined space hazards in workplaces countrywide.

Construction Risks “Less Predictable”

Lopez pointed out that confined spaces in general industry are no less hazardous to enter than in the construction industry.

“The real difference is the risks presented in construction are less predictable than in general industry,” he said. “This is because most general industry confined spaces are ‘fixed,’ meaning that they have either been entered before or have a history of use that helps in determining risks and precautions. As a result, they are easier to address during the entry permit risk assessment process.”

Lopez said the proposed rule does not take into account the reason a controlling contractor or host employer often retains a contractor is due to the contractor’s expertise in confined space entry. Giving the employer or contractor responsibility for information about the confined space makes little sense in such situations and could prove dangerous due to their lack of familiarity with the hazards.

“ASSE understands the difficult job OSHA has in moving forward rulemaking,” Lopez said. “We want to work with OSHA to help make sure this rulemaking can build on the successful ways our members and the voluntary consensus standards process help workers enter confined spaces safely.”

For more information on the proposed rule, which OSHA published in November 2007, read OSHA Seeks Comments on Confined Space Rule.

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