Confined Spaces in Construction - Frequently Asked Questions
UPDATED June 1, 2016
On May 4, 2015, OSHA issued a new standard for construction work in confined spaces, which became effective August 3, 2015. Confined spaces can present physical and atmospheric hazards that can be avoided if they are recognized and addressed prior to entering these spaces to perform work. The new standard, Subpart AA of 29 CFR 1926 will help prevent construction workers from being hurt or killed by eliminating and isolating hazards in confined spaces at construction sites similar to the way workers in other industries are already protected. The questions and answers below are provided to assist employers in protecting their workers while working in and around confined spaces in construction.
A confined space has;
- Limited means of entry and/or exit,
- Is large enough for a worker to enter it, and
- Is not intended for regular/continuous occupancy.
Examples may include sewers, pits, crawl spaces, attics, boilers, and many more.
A permit space is a confined space that may have a hazardous atmosphere, engulfment hazard, or other serious hazard, such as exposed wiring, that can interfere with a worker's ability to leave the space without assistance
Only workers who have been assigned and trained to work in a permit space may do so. Additionally, before workers can enter a permit space, the employer has to write a permit that specifies what safety measures must to be taken and who is allowed to go in.
If you are doing construction work - such as building a new structure or upgrading an old one - then you must follow the construction confined space rule.
There are 5 key differences from the construction rule, and several areas where OSHA has clarified existing requirements. The five new requirements include:
- More detailed provisions requiring coordinated activities when there are multiple employers at the worksite (for more detail, see question 16, below). This will ensure hazards are not introduced into a confined space by workers performing tasks outside the space. An example would be a generator running near the entrance of a confined space causing a buildup of carbon monoxide within the space.
- Requiring a competent person to evaluate the work site and identify confined spaces, including permit spaces.
- Requiring continuous atmospheric monitoring whenever possible.
- Requiring continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards. For example, when workers are performing work in a storm sewer, a storm upstream from the workers could cause flash flooding. An electronic sensor or observer posted upstream from the work site could alert workers in the space at the first sign of the hazard, giving the workers time to evacuate the space safely.
- Allowing for the suspension of a permit, instead of cancellation, in the event of changes from the entry conditions list on the permit or an unexpected event requiring evacuation of the space. The space must be returned to the entry conditions listed on the permit before re-entry.
In addition, OSHA has added provisions to the new rule that clarifies existing requirements in the General Industry standard. These include:
- Requiring that employers who direct workers to enter a space without using a complete permit system prevent workers' exposure to physical hazards through elimination of the hazard or isolation methods such as lockout/tagout.
- Requiring that employers who are relying on local emergency services for emergency services arrange for responders to give the employer advance notice if they will be unable to respond for a period of time (because they are responding to another emergency, attending department-wide training, etc.).
- Requiring employers to provide training in a language and vocabulary that the worker understands.
Finally, several terms have been added to the definitions for the construction rule, such as "entry employer" to describe the employer who directs workers to enter a space, and "entry rescue", added to clarify the differences in the types of rescue employers can use.
Previously the only requirement for confined spaces in construction was training. OSHA concluded this was inadequate as injuries and fatalities continued to occur.
The rule requires employers to determine what kinds of spaces their workers are in, what hazards could be there, how those hazards should be made safe, what training workers should receive, and how to rescue those workers if anything goes wrong.
August 3, 2015
Yes, if workers will enter permit spaces.
The confined spaces standard can be found at www.osha.gov under 29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart AA - Confined Spaces in Construction. An electronic copy of the regulatory text can be accessed from OSHA's construction webpage at final rule (PDF). The preamble to the final rule can also be found on OSHA's website under "Federal Register Notices" for May 4, 2015 or on the Federal Register website (https://www.federalregister.gov/) under Vol. 80, page 25365.
The final rule is available in 29 CFR Part 1926, which can be ordered from the Government Printing Office at 29 CFR Part 1926.
For compliance assistance regarding application of the final rule contact: Directorate of Construction, Room N3468, OSHA, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20210; telephone 202-693-2020 or fax 202-693-1689.
All construction employers whose workers may be exposed to confined space hazards.
Yes, you must take effective steps to prevent your employees from entering the space.
Yes, Controlling contractors and host employers must discuss spaces on the site and their hazards with entry employers and each other before and after entry (see question 16, below).
The rule makes the controlling contractor, rather than the host employer, the primary point of contact for information about permit spaces at the work site. The host employer must provide information it has about permit spaces at the work site to the controlling contractor, who then passes it on to the employers whose employees will enter the spaces (entry employers). Likewise, entry employers must give the controlling contractor information about their entry program and hazards they encounter in the space, and the controlling contractor passes that information on to other entry employers and back to the host. As mentioned above, the controlling contractor is also responsible for making sure employers outside a space know not to create hazards in the space, and that entry employers working in a space at the same time do not create hazards for one another's workers.
An employer whose workers are engaged in both construction and general industry work in confined spaces will meet OSHA requirements if that employer meets the requirements of 29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA - Confined Spaces in Construction.
Yes, Twenty-two states or territories currently operate their own OSHA-approved State Plans (covering private sector and state and local government employees), and five additional states and one territory (Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and the Virgin Islands) operate plans that cover state and local government employees only. State Plans have and enforce their own occupational safety and health standards that are required to be at least as effective as OSHA's. Many State Plans adopt OSHA's standards identically, but some State Plans may have different or more stringent requirements.
More information is available at the www.osha.gov.
If the competent person can reasonably foresee the presence of a hazard or potential hazard that would make the space a permit-required confined space (see response to Question 2), the competent person must treat the space as a permit-required confined space when entering the space to assess it. However, if the competent person cannot reasonably foresee the presence of such a hazard, the competent person would not need to treat the space as a permit-required confined space when entering the space to assess it. Of course, if the competent person encounters such a hazard when assessing the space, whether or not the hazard was reasonably foreseeable, the competent person must treat the space as a permit-required space after identifying the hazard.
Yes. In fact, the vast majority of the Standard's requirements only apply to permit-required confined spaces, and attics, basements, and crawl spaces in a residential home will not typically trigger these requirements. Once the employer's competent person1 performs an initial evaluation and determines that a confined space does not require a permit (1926.1203(a)), the employer's only further obligations under the Standard are to have a competent person reevaluate the space and, if necessary, reclassify it as a permit-required confined space if changes in the use or configuration of the space occur that could increase the hazards or potential hazards to entrants or if the employer has any indication that the initial evaluation may have been inadequate (1926.1203(f)).
If the employer's competent person determines that the space is a permit-required confined space, the following provisions also apply: entry communication and coordination (1926.1203(h)), permit-required confined space program (1926.1204), permitting process (1926.1205), entry permit (1926.1206), training (1926.1207), duties of authorized entrants, attendants, and entry supervisors (1926.1208-1210), and rescue and emergency services (1926.1211).
1: A competent person means someone who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them (see 1926.1202 definition of "competent person").
Yes. Where employees are exposed to hazardous atmospheres that do not present an immediate danger of death or impairment that could impede the employee's ability to exit the confined space without assistance, OSHA's health standards for those hazards apply, rather than the Confined Spaces in Construction Standard (see 1926.1202 definition of "hazardous atmosphere").
No. The standard requires a competent person to identify all permit-required confined spaces in which employees may work "through consideration and evaluation of the elements of that space, including testing as necessary." 1926.1203(a). If a competent person can reliably determine whether attics, crawl spaces, or basements with the same or similar configuration contain one of the hazards or potential hazards listed in response to Question 2 without physically inspecting each of the spaces, the competent person need not physically examine each space to make the identification required under 1926.1203(a).
2: As used in these FAQs, "residential home building" or "residential home construction" refers to work on any residence being built using traditional wood frame construction materials, methods, and procedures that are typical to single-family home or townhouse construction. Traditional wood frame construction materials and methods include (1) framing materials – wood (or equivalent cold-formed sheet metal stud) framing (not steel or concrete), wooden floor joists and roof structures; (2) exterior wall structure – wood (or equivalent cold-formed sheet metal stud) framing or masonry brick or block; and (3) methods – traditional wood frame construction techniques (see OSHA's Compliance Guidance for Residential Construction, STD 03-11-002 (June 6, 2011), available on OSHA's website). Work on multi-family residences may also be considered "residential home building" or "residential home construction" provided that the work similarly meets the criteria set forth above.
No. However, if the attic, crawl space, or basement (before steps are installed) is a confined space, the presence of a physical hazard in the space would trigger the permit-required confined space requirements if the physical hazard is not isolated3 (see 1926.1203(g)) or if there is potential employee exposure to the physical hazard. Note that not all unsafe conditions constitute "physical hazards," which the standard defines as only those conditions that could impede an entrant's ability to exit the space without assistance.
3: For physical hazards, the Standard defines the term "isolate" as "the process by which employees are completely protected against . . . contact with a physical hazard, by means such as Blanking or blinding; misaligning or removing sections of lines, pipes, or ducts; a double block and bleed system; lockout or tagout of all sources of energy; blocking or disconnecting all mechanical linkages; or placement of barriers to eliminate the potential for employee contact with a physical hazard." 1926.1202. Guarding by location is also an acceptable means of isolation under the Standard (see response to Question 61).
No. Only if an entrant has exposure to a serious hazard associated with the electrical equipment, such as an exposed live conductor, and the exposure could impede the entrant's ability to exit the space without assistance, would the presence of electrical equipment make the attic, crawl space, or basement (before steps are installed) a permit-required confined space.
No. A confined space with limited lighting alone would not be considered a permit-required confined space, provided that the limited lighting could not impede an entrant's ability to exit the space without assistance.4
4: Note, however, that dimly lit spaces can potentially pose other safety hazards, and lighting must comply with 29 C.F.R 1926.56.
No. The presence of animals would only make a confined space a permit-required confined space if the animals posed a physical hazard, as defined by the standard.
No. If utility services pass through attics, crawl spaces, or basements (before steps are installed) that are confined spaces, the inherent hazards of the material flowing through the service lines do not have to be considered in the permit space determination unless it is reasonably foreseeable that a rupture or leak could occur such that the contents of the service lines could cause a serious safety or health hazard that could impede an entrant's ability to exit the space without assistance.
No. A confined space is a space that (1) is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter it; (2) has limited or restricted means for entry and exit; and (3) is not designed for continuous employee occupancy. All three criteria must be met for an attic to be considered a confined space. In many instances, an attic will not be considered a confined space because there is not limited or restricted means for entry and exit. For example, attics with a permanent, full-size doorway and/or stairwell access would rarely5 meet the definition of a confined space, provided there are no other impediments to egress. An attic under construction where there is no drywall in place would also not have limited or restricted means for entry or exit and would not be considered a confined space.
5: See response to Question 38 regarding stairwell access to attics.
No. Attics that are determined to be confined spaces would generally not be permit-required confined spaces because they typically do not contain the types of hazards or potential hazards that make a confined space a permit-required confined space (see response to Question 2).
No. A fall hazard in an attic – such as falling through the drywall of the attic – could cause a serious injury. However, fall hazards within an attic would not generally impede the ability of an entrant to exit the space without assistance and therefore would not trigger the permit-required confined space requirements. OSHA notes that even though permit-required confined space requirements would not be triggered in this situation, employers would still be obligated to protect their employees from fall hazards – as appropriate and required – when they are working in an attic where fall hazards exist.
No. The presence of a mechanical fan would only make the attic a permit-required confined space if it is reasonably foreseeable that the fan could cause an injury that could impede an entrant's ability to exit the space without assistance.
No. Asbestos would not trigger the permit-required confined space requirements of the Standard. However, if asbestos were present in an attic, an employer would need to follow any applicable requirements of OSHA's asbestos standards.
The Standard defines "entry" as the action by which any part of a person passes through an opening into a permit-required confined space. Thus, regardless of whether or not such action is intentional or any work activities are actually performed in the space, if any body part of an entrant breaks the plane of an attic opening, that would constitute an entry under the Standard, provided that the attic also meets the requirements of a permit-required confined space.
No. A final inspection of an attic would rarely constitute an "entry" because even if an attic were a confined space, it would not normally contain any of the hazards or potential hazards that would trigger the permit-required confined space requirements of the Standard: (1) contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere; (2) contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant; (3) 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; or (4) contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard (see 1926.1202). An entry employer may rely on a competent person's expertise and experience in determining whether the presence of such a hazard or potential hazard is reasonably foreseeable during such an inspection or any other time when it is necessary to enter into an attic that is a confined space. If the attic is a permit-required confined space, the employer must comply with the permit-required confined space provisions of the Standard whenever there is an entry regardless of the duration of the entry.
The same analysis would apply to other inspections conducted by employees either at the outset of a construction project or as the project progresses. If there is no reasonably foreseeable hazard or potential hazard present in an attic or any other space during the construction process, the permit-required confined space requirements would not be triggered.
Extreme heat can be considered a serious physical hazard in attics such that the attics could be considered permit-required confined spaces. OSHA has not quantified how hot it must be to trigger the permit-required confined space requirements. However, the heat must be so extreme that it could potentially impede an entrant's ability to exit the attic without assistance. Factors that the Agency would consider are (1) the temperature of the space while work is performed, (2) the nature and duration of the tasks performed in the heat, and (3) whether the entrant is acclimatized to work in extreme heat. A short-duration, light-duty task performed in a hot attic would typically not constitute a physical hazard triggering the permit-required confined space requirements. In addition, measures to control the heat in an attic (e.g., use of a fan) will be considered by the Agency in determining whether a serious hazard exists in the first instance.
Whether an attic with pull down stair access would be considered a confined space depends on whether the configuration of the stairs impedes the ability of employees to exit the space. Ladder-like pull down stairs that require employees to ascend/descend hand-over-hand, limit egress and could therefore render an attic a confined space. An attic that can be accessed via pull down stairs that resemble the structure of a stationary stairway and do not require an employee to ascend/descend hand-over-hand would not be considered a confined space if there are no impediments to egress.
No. The performance of duties outside of an attic would only turn a "confined space" into a "permit-required confined space" if the work outside of the attic could create a hazardous atmosphere or physical hazard in the attic that could impede the ability of an entrant to safely exit the space without assistance. It would be rare for this to occur in the residential home building environment. For example, the use of portable power tools outside of an attic will rarely, if ever, create a noise hazard such that it would impede the ability of an entrant to safely exit the attic without assistance. Similarly, performing painting and staining outside of an attic will rarely create a hazard that would impede the ability of an entrant to safely exit an attic without assistance. However, using certain high VOC (volatile organic compound) solvents in paint thinners or in floor stripping could potentially create a hazardous atmosphere in an adjacent attic or other confined space.
A competent person must assess these spaces to determine whether they are permit-required confined spaces prior to any entry. The employer will only need to follow the requirements of a permit-required confined space program if, based on the competent person's assessment, the employer has reason to believe the space is a permit-required confined space. It would be rare that a remodeler would need to follow the permit-required confined space requirements in this situation because most confined spaces in a residential home will not contain the hazards that would trigger the permit-required confined space provisions: (1) contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere; (2) contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant; (3) 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; or (4) contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard (see 1926.1202).
No, provided the repair is considered maintenance work on the unit (covered by the general industry standards) such as adjusting existing equipment or replacing component parts in kind. However, upgrading the HVAC system or its component parts would be considered construction work covered by the Standard.6 This would also be the case for any other piece of equipment in an attic that is a confined space.
6: This response is consistent with OSHA's general policy on distinguishing between general industry and construction work as described in a Letter of Interpretation from OSHA to Raymond V. Knobbs issued on November 18, 2003, available on OSHA's website.
No. Attics with full-sized doors at least two feet in width and six feet, six inches in height would not meet the definition of a confined space, provided the path to the entrance and area around the entrance are kept clear of structural or temporary impediments to egress.
Only an employer that should reasonably anticipate that the employees it directs may enter a permit-required confined space is required to post a sign or other equally effective means to warn employees of the location of and danger posed by the permit-required confined space. For example, if a contractor affixes drywall to the roof trusses of a residential home and creates a confined space, that contractor is not required to post a warning sign that the attic constitutes a permit-required confined space, unless (1) the attic meets the criteria of a permit-required confined space, and (2) the contractor should reasonably anticipate that the employees it directs may enter the attic.
No. However, the permit must be "made available" at the time of entry to all authorized entrants or their authorized representatives. This requirement to make the permit available could be met by posting the permit or by "any other equally effective means" (see 1926.1205(c)).
No, provided the basement is configured as designed (e.g., has permanent stairs, walk-out entry/exit, or egress window installed).
No. Provided there is a door to/from the outside to the basement, the basement would not be considered a confined space as there would not be limited or restricted means of egress.
No. If the basement has an egress window that meets the specifications of Section R310 of the 2012 or 2009 International Residential Code, the basement would not be considered a confined space as there would not be limited or restricted means of egress to and from the basement.
No. Even if the space is a confined space (see response to Question 1), if there is no reasonably foreseeable hazard or potential hazard within a space that could impede an entrant's ability to safely exit the space without assistance (see response to Question 2), then a residential home builder would not be required to consider the space a permit-required confined space under the Standard. A residential home builder may rely on a competent person's experience and expertise in determining whether any such hazard or potential hazard in a space is reasonably foreseeable.
No. The requirements only apply to host employers with employees who work at the worksite, regardless of when those workers are at the site.
No. The Standard only requires the host employer to communicate the information in paragraph (h)(1) if it is known by the host employer. The Standard does not require the host employer to perform a separate assessment to gather the information. In addition, the communication provisions only require host employers to convey the information to the controlling contractor through reasonable means. There is no requirement in the standard for the host employer to verify that the information has been received by the controlling contractor or transmitted to entry employers by the controlling contractor. A host employer that has the information in paragraph (h)(1) need only communicate the information to the controlling contractor one time to satisfy the requirements of the Standard. Additional communications will only be required if the host employer gains additional such information not included in the original communication.
No. However, these employers must nonetheless (1) take effective measures to ensure that the employees they direct do not enter any known permit spaces (see 1926.1203(c)), and (2) comply with 1926.1203(h). Otherwise, only employers that should reasonably anticipate that the employees they direct may enter a permit space are responsible for compliance with the permit-required confined space requirements of the Standard. For example, employers that will not direct any employees to enter a confined space are not required to comply with the following provisions of the rule: permit-required confined space program (1926.1204), permitting process (1926.1205), entry permit (1926.1206), training (1926.1207), duties of authorized entrants, attendants, and entry supervisors (1926.1208-1210), and rescue and emergency services (1926.1211).
Yes. The Standard does not require multiple communications of the information in paragraph (h) between employers on a residential home building site (whether at a single home building site or a site with multiple homes being constructed) where the potential hazards of confined spaces remain the same or substantially the same as long as any minor differences between the spaces are not relevant to which provisions of the standard apply to the spaces. However, if a host employer or controlling contractor learns of new information relevant to assessing the space under the Standard after an initial communication, the host employer or controlling contractor would need to convey the new information in a subsequent communication.
No. An entry employer must communicate the information required under 1926.1203(h)(3) before "entry operations" begin, and it must communicate the information required under 1926.1203(h)(5) after "entry operations" have ended. Entry employees may go into and out of the space multiple times while completing the tasks identified on the permit without making additional communications as long as the entry employer maintains control over the space between the pre-entry and post-entry communications required under 1926.1203(h)(3) and (h)(5). In addition, a single pre-entry communication could address entry operations in multiple spaces under 1926.1203(h)(3) and a single post-entry communication could address multiple entry operations under 1926.1203(h)(5), provided each space has its own permit and is addressed in the communication.
No. These provisions only apply to permit-required confined spaces. Employers who have confined spaces – but not permit-required confined spaces – are under no obligation to follow the communication requirements of the Standard.
No. OSHA does not specify how the information is to be exchanged. The Agency will deem it sufficient for each employer to provide the necessary information through any appropriate mechanism. The information exchange requirements can be oral. There is no requirement in the Standard for written communications between employers on multi-employer worksites.
Yes. While the exchange of information does not have to be in writing, some employers may choose to establish a mechanism for a written exchange. The written exchange does not have to be formal. It can be performed through email, text message, or other informal means, so long as the required information is provided.
No. A controlling contractor only needs to obtain information on permit-required confined spaces from the host employer and entry employer(s) and provide this information and other known information on permit-required confined spaces to a host employer or entry employer. The Standard does not require a controlling contractor to enter spaces to gather information.
No. Only employers that should reasonably anticipate that the employees they direct may enter confined spaces are required to perform this assessment. For host employers and controlling contractors that have no reason to anticipate that the employees they direct may enter confined spaces, there is no obligation to perform this initial assessment of the worksite.
No. The Standard only applies to employers.
Yes. An entry supervisor also may serve as an attendant or as an authorized entrant, as long as that person is trained and equipped as required by the Standard for each role he or she fills.
Yes. Guarding by location—that is, configuring the space or equipment in the space to eliminate employee exposure to the hazard—is an acceptable form of isolation under the standard.
There is no specific threshold noise level that must be reached in order for noise to constitute a physical hazard triggering the permit-required confined space requirements. However, the noise must be so extreme that it could impede an entrant's ability to safely exit the space without assistance. In most instances, noise levels below the eight-hour TWA permissible exposure limit for noise in construction of 90 dBA would not constitute a physical hazard triggering the permit-required confined space requirements.
Yes. A residential home builder may rely on personal protective equipment to address a noise hazard for purposes of complying with the Standard so long as the personal protective equipment itself does not serve to impede the ability of an entrant to safely exit the space without assistance.
No. If a confined space does not contain or have the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere, an entry employer is not required to perform atmospheric testing or atmospheric monitoring.
No. Whether a space has limited means of egress is a fact-dependent determination based on the size of the entrance and the configuration of the inside of the space. It is not dependent on the size of an entry employee.
No. The initial evaluation need not be documented. The employer, however, must be able to explain how the evaluation was conducted and describe the results. Thus, any citation will be for failure to evaluate the workplace as required by the Standard, rather than for failure to create a record of the evaluation.
No. The evaluation requirement may be met through existing experience and knowledge of the space, provided this information is adequate to make the determination required by the Standard. For example, a competent person may have information which shows that the hazards or potential hazards of all attics, crawl spaces, and basements (before steps are installed) will not impede an entrant's ability to exit the space without assistance. Therefore, these spaces would not need to be evaluated individually before each entry. This same approach can be used for any entry employer which has a number of identical spaces and information to support its determination(s). See the response to Question 23.
The permit is issued by the entry employer (see 1926.1205(a) and the definition of "entry employer" in 1926.1202: the "employer who decides that an employee it directs will enter a permit space").
No. So long as the entry employer informed the rescue service that rescue services may be needed and of the requirement that the rescue service notify the employer if it is unavailable for rescue, and the rescue service agreed to provide the notification, no citation will issue to the entry employer if the rescue service fails to fulfill its agreement to notify the entry employer that it is unavailable to perform rescue services.
No. Only employers that can reasonably anticipate that the employees they direct may enter permit-required confined spaces are subject to the requirement to develop and implement procedures for rescue and emergency services under 1926.1204(i) and 1926.1211.
Yes. A competent person can draw from his or her experience and expertise in making the required assessment under 1926.1203(a).
Section 1926.1202 defines serious physical damage as an impairment or illness in which a body part is made functionally useless or is substantially reduced in efficiency. Injuries involving such impairment would usually require treatment by a physician or other licensed health-care professional. In general, injuries requiring only first-aid treatment would not be considered serious physical damage because they would not impair an employee's ability to safely exit a confined space without assistance.