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.

August 8, 1994

Mr. Robert Spielvogel Clean Harbors Environmental Services, Inc. 1200 Crown Colony Drive P.O. Box 9137 Quincy, MA. 02269

Dear Mr. Spielvogel:

This is in response to your letter of Sept 2, 1993 and subsequent telephone conversations with my staff to further clarify your request concerning permit space entry. Please accept our apology for the delay in this response.

You first asked what confined space entry requirements apply to subcontractors who perform work (not involving power generation, transmission, or distribution) in utility company manholes and vaults. The appropriate standard for such spaces in general industry is 29 CFR 1910.146 (permit-required confined spaces).

Also, Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) rule, 29 CFR 1910.269 (Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution), provides, to the extent of its coverage and protective measures, requirements for qualified employees performing electric power generation, transmission, or distribution work in enclosed spaces such as manholes and unvented vaults. This standard is specific to work associated with generation transmission, and distribution of electric power.

Thus, if a contractor is not doing 1910.269 work, 1910.146 would be the applicable standard.

Your second question concerned the "restricted enforcement" policy referenced in the April 15, 1993, Memorandum to Regional Administrators, addressing OSHA's interim enforcement policy for electric utility underground workplaces. This memorandum has been superseded by the promulgation of the final 1910.269 standard.

In conversation with a member of my staff, you asked to have your "applicable coverage" question also addressed to contractors entering telecommunication manholes. The work in telecommunication manholes is addressed by 29 CFR 1910.268 titled "Telecommunications."

OSHA provides clear guidance regarding the application of generic standards in 29 CFR 1910.5, Applicability of Standards. In particular, 29 CFR 1910.5(c)(1) provides that a particular standard will supersede a generic standard when the "particular standard specifically [applies) to a condition, practice, means, method, operation, or process." Also, 29 CFR 1910.5(c)(2) says that a generic standard "shall apply ... to any employment in any industry, even though particular standards are also prescribed for the industry ... to the extent that none of such particular standards applies."

The telecommunications standard applies to work on telecommunications lines or equipment and to the maintenance of their containing structures. If the work performed in a manhole or vault does not fall into one of these two categories, then the generic permit space standard in 1910.146 applies.

If 1910.268 does apply, the standard explicitly provides for the application of a generic standard in 29 CFR 1910.268(a)(3), Application, which states "[o]perations or conditions not specifically covered by this section are subject to all the applicable standards contained in this part 1910. See 1910.5(c)."

Based on 29 CFR 1910.5(c)(1), OSHA has stated that where permit space hazards identified by the initial determination requirement of paragraph (c)(1) are addressed by 29 CFR 1910.268(o), Underground lines, the telecommunications standard, not the permit space standard, applies (58 FR 4469). However, the Agency has also stated in Footnote 4 that "Although it is rare, manholes can become overwhelmingly contaminated with toxins or other hazardous chemicals (Washington Tr. 159, 165). If the work area could not be made safe before entry, as required by 1910.268(o)(2)(i)(B), entry would have to be performed under the provisions of 1910.146." (58 FR 4469).

If you have further questions regarding your request, please contact Mr. Arthur Buchanan or Don Kallstrom in the Office of General Industry Compliance Assistance (202) 219-8031.


John B. Miles, Director Directorate of Compliance Programs