OSHA's Permit Required Confined Spaces general industry standard was issued in 1993, and in 2015 the Confined Spaces in Construction standard became law. However, despite these regulations and employers' obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace, on the average 100 employees in the United States a year die in confined spaces, and many more are injured or barely escape. Some of incidents are from a simple lack of compliance with existing standards. But others appear to result from gaps in existing standards and confusion about what is required for confined space entry. NFPA 350, Guide for Confined Space Entry and Work, with the first edition published in late 2015, addresses these gaps and provides practical guidance on how to apply requirements in existing standards to improve confined space safety.
Confined Spaces Are Dangerous!
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a total of 136 workers were killed in incidents associated with confined spaces in 2016. Often times one incident results in multiple fatalities. The BLS reported that during the 1995 to 1999 time period there were 13 confined space incidents that resulted in 24 fatalities. In addition to fatalities, serious disabling injuries and illnesses occur in confined spaces. The majority of the fatalities are due to atmospheric hazards, such as oxygen deficiency. One of the root causes of many of these incidents is lack of knowledge of the applicable regulations and confined space hazards.
Three of the key standards used in confined space entry in the U.S.—OSHA 1910.146, Permit Required Confined Spaces; OSHA's relatively recent 1926 Subpart AA Confined Spaces in Construction, and ASSE Z117.1, Safety Requirements for Confined Spaces—provide minimum performance-based requirements. Performance-based standards focus primarily on the desired outcome—in this case, preventing injuries and fatalities in confined spaces.