BY ROBERT P. MADER Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
WASHINGTON — Contractor associations are telling the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to apply the general industry confined space rule to construction. OSHA is proposing a new confined space rule just for construction that contractors find onerous.
OSHA is proposing a whole new category called a “hazardous enclosed space” that is so broad in its definition that it could include any room that’s being painted or in which carpeting is being installed.
Contractors told the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Act panel that the general industry rule works and the proposed rule is too broad, said Pete Chaney, director of safety and health for the Mechanical Contractors Association of America.
The Small Business Regulatory Enforcement and Fairness Act is administered by the Small Business Administration and is designed to give businesses a say on regulations that will affect them.
MCAA and other associations told OSHA that a confined space rule is needed for construction, just not the rule the agency is proposing. MCAA was joined by Air Conditioning Contractors of America, Associated General Contractors, the Independent Electrical Contractors, the National Association of Home Builders, the National Electrical Contractors Association, and Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association.
The current proposed rule is being driven by a 1994 lawsuit against OSHA by the Steel Workers Union that demanded a confined spaces rule for construction.
OSHA has greatly underestimated the burdens its proposal would put on small business, said Larry Taylor of Air Rite in Fort Worth, Texas, and immediate past ACCA chairman. Taylor said the proposal does not recognize safety practices in the field and the relationship between the owner or general contractor and subcontractors on the job.
“Although ACCA agrees that it would be helpful to further address construction in existing confined spaces safety procedures, we feel the rule goes too far as the general industry confined spaces rule, and hazard communication and ventilation standards, now cover most situations that ACCA members face,” said Paul T. Stalknecht, ACCA president and CEO.
“We all agree that we need a confined space standard for the industry,” Chaney told CONTRACTOR. “Most of our members are using the general industry standard for confined spaces. What we told OSHA through the SBREFA process was that we’d like the general industry standard made applicable to construction rather than developing a new standard.”
The general industry standard defines a confined space in the way most people think about it as a space not designed for occupancy. It could be a vault, pit, tank or even an excavation. It’s characterized by limited entry and exit, inadequate ventilation, but it has enough room for the employee to carry out assigned tasks.
The general industry rule makes the employer responsible for his own employees, Chaney said, so if a contractor has his employee in the space, that’s his responsibility. The new proposal adds a category called “controlling employer” that could create confusion.
OSHA is proposing a new category called a hazardous enclosed space that could conceivably be any room in a building intended for human occupancy. Entry and exit would be unrestricted but the room would have insufficient ventilation.
The associations pointed out to OSHA that it could finalize a transfer of the general industry rule to construction quickly, within a couple of years. If OSHA were to start from scratch with a new rule, it may not become effective for another 10 years.