OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

May 9, 1994

Battalion Chief Chase Sargent
Virginia Beach Fire Department
Princess Anne Executive Park
Municipal Center
Virginia Beach, VA 23456-9065

Dear Chief Sargent:

This is in response to your letter of March 8, to James Foster, Director of OSHA's Office of Information and Consumer Affairs, requesting clarification about the 29 CFR 1910.146 Permit Required Confined Space Standard (the standard) as it relates to rescue services. Please accept our apology for the delay in responding to your letter.

You asked whether the same criteria should be applied to emergency response personnel and regular employees when evaluating confined space entry problems. The standard addresses emergency rescue work as a special case, which is treated separately in paragraph (k), where performance specifications are provided for rescue services and in paragraph (g), which requires appropriate training for rescuers, so that they will have knowledge of the hazards associated with their special role. The same criteria are not applied to regular employees entering a confined space and rescue workers dealing with an emergency.

You wanted to know if 29 CFR 1910.146 applies to training as well as to emergency response. It applies to both, and the cross reference from paragraph [(k)(2)(ii)] (which requires each member of the rescue service to be trained to perform the assigned rescue duties and to receive the applicable portion of the training for authorized entrants) to paragraph (g)(1) (where required training for entrants is described) confirms the dual application. It is also noted in the preamble to the standard that the rescuers must know all aspects of rescue duties and responsibilities and have knowledge and understanding equal to the entrant, regarding the hazards of the confined space. During training, rescuers should be fully protected by the standard while becoming familiar with those portions of it that apply to rescue operations.

You asked for a clarification of the enforcement authority that has jurisdiction over emergency response organizations involved in rescue operations in confined spaces. The responsibility for the safety and health of Virginia employees rests with the Commonwealth of Virginia because Virginia has been granted that authority through a program approved under section 18(b) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Your rescue team and others in Virginia will operate under the safety and health laws in that state. However, Virginia is required to have a standard that is equal to or more protective than 29 CFR 1910.146.

You asked about a register of rescue service providers. OSHA does not certify any type of service providers and we are not aware of any registers which can help to locate such resources.

Your concern about using retrieval/tag lines and other procedures outlined in paragraph (k)(3) are unfounded. The provisions that pertain to emergency rescue services are set out in (k)(1) and (k)(2).

We reviewed your standard operating procedure (SOP SO 02) for confined space entry and rescue. (this may be addressed by another of your SOP's) While we are not in a position to specifically endorse your plan, we want to point out the need to verify that the supply of air used by rescuers meets minimum air quality specifications.

There may be a conflict between this SOP's use of air supplied respirators in IDLH atmospheres and the States respiratory protection regulations. We suggest that you discuss this topic with the State of Virginia, by contacting Tony Rodriguez at the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, Suite H, 2551 Eltham Ave., Norfolk, Virginia 23513.

We hope this information is responsive to your concerns. If we can be of further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us.


H. Berrien Zettler, Deputy Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs