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OSHA updates confined space standard

A confined space is an area that is big enough for an employee to enter but has limited entrances and exits and is not meant for continuous worker occupancy. OSHA issued a confined space standard in 1993 that remains applicable for all industries in general. However, Minnesota construction workers may be interested to learn that a new standard specifically targeting their industry is scheduled to go into effect in August 2015.

Manholes, pits, containment cavities and ventilation ducts are all types of confined spaces. The purpose of the new standard is to lessen the risk of common hazards in these spaces throughout the construction industry. Some of these hazards include the presence of toxic or explosive gases, fumes or vapors as well as oxygen deficiency. The industry can control these hazards by air ventilating and monitoring, blocking product in-feeding and steam pipes, locking out moving parts, or pumping out or draining liquid contents.

The new standard is similar to the existing general one in many ways. However, it includes more specific rules that require coordinated activity when more than one employer is on a work site, ensuring that employees do not introduce hazards into confined spaces nearby. It also includes a clause that requires a competent person, such as a supervisor or even multiple people, to evaluate a work site and locate confined spaces. Among other things, employers must put into effect early-warning systems that monitor non-isolated hazards such as flash flooding. According to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these changes could prevent an estimated five deaths and 780 serious injuries every year.

The construction industry is one of the most hazardous, so it is not uncommon for workers to become injured on the job. These workers could be entitled to workers' compensation benefits through their employers' private insurance providers. Many injured workers obtain the assistance of an attorney for the preparation and filing of the required claim.

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