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.

December 20, 1994

Mr. Edward A. Donoghue, CPCA
Code and Safety Consultant to NEII
Shushan Road, P.O. Box 201
Salem, NY 12865-0201

Dear Mr. Donoghue:

This is in response to your letter of November 25, to Assistant Secretary Joseph A. Dear, responding to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) letter of interpretation to you, addressing the application of the 29 CFR 1910.146 standard to the elevator industry. Your letter has been assigned to the Directorate of Compliance Programs for further response.

In your letter, you asked that OSHA reconsider its answer to the question "Is an elevator pit considered a confined space?" You also provided suggested alternate language for the answer to this question, with supporting reasoning.

The statement in your first reason, that as a general rule an elevator pit is accessed through a doorway by the elevator mechanic (who usually descends a ladder (normally three feet to seven feet) into the pit) supports OSHA's position that elevator pits should be considered confined spaces. As discussed below, the mere presence of a door leading to a space does not, in and of itself, exempt the space from being considered a confined space.

OSHA published a technical amendment to the preamble to the standard on November 4, 1994, which speaks directly to your situation. This amendment clarifies the intent of the standard and notes "that doorways and other portals through which a person can walk are not to be considered limited means for entry or exit. However, a space containing such a door or portal may still be deemed a confined space, if an entrant's ability to escape in an emergency would be hindered." A copy of the Federal Register containing this amendment is enclosed for your information.

With regard to your other reason given for generally not considering elevator pits as confined spaces, the amenities provided and physical dimensions within the pit for the worker to do there job do not constitute being designed for continuous employee occupancy. Rather, they support functions being carried out in the pit. The intent behind this confined space definition component, "Is not designed for continuous employee occupancy", is to focus on the design of the space, which is the key to whether a human can occupy the space, under normal operating conditions.

In closing, we believe the wording of our original response to the above referenced question is the most appropriate and reflective of the standard's intent. As stated, it reaffirms paragraph (a) requiring practices and procedures to protect employees in general industry from the hazards of entry into spaces which can endanger them.

We appreciate your tour invitation, but we do not believe that a tour of several elevator pits in the Washington, DC area would result in a change in our position. Should you have further questions on this response, they should be directed to Mr. Don Kallstrom in the Office of General Industry Compliance Assistance at 202 219-8031 ext. 109.


John B. Miles, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs