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.

October 6, 1995

Mr. Joseph M. Bouchard
Coordinator of Safety Services
Fairfield University
Fairfield, Connecticut 06430-7524

Dear Mr. Bouchard:

This is in response to your letter dated October 4, 1994, requesting an interpretation of a lifting device and its ability to act as a rescue retrieval system as it applies to OSHA's permit required confined space entry standard (29 CFR 1910.146). Please accept our apology for the delay in this response.

The permit required confined space entry standard specifically requires that to facilitate non-entry rescue, retrieval systems or methods shall be used whenever an authorized entrant enters a permit space, unless the retrieval equipment would increase the overall risk of entry or would not contribute to the rescue of the entrant. Sub-paragraph (k)(3)(ii) states that a mechanical device shall be available to retrieve personnel from vertical type permit spaces more than 5 feet deep.

The first problem noted with using a material hoist as an emergency rescue retrieval system is that it is not available for rescue when it is hauling materials in violation of (k)(3)(ii).

The second problem is that if it were being used for material handling it would require entry by the attendant or action by someone within the confined space to switch the retrieval line from the materials to the employee to be rescued, in violation of (k)(3). According to (k)(3)(i) and (ii), each authorized entrant shall use a chest or full body harness, with retrieval line attached. The other end of the retrieval line shall be attached to a mechanical device or fixed point outside the permit space, in such a manner that rescue can begin as soon as the rescuer becomes aware that rescue is necessary.

In your letter you raised your own concerns about the potential damage to the rope and other equipment due to material handling. Although there are specific requirements for rope design and for inspection of ropes used for rescue and retrieval, those issues have not been addressed in this response, since the issue of dual use of a single mechanical lift, as described in the attachments to your letter, is not acceptable.

Please note that other scenarios exist where a similar lifting device might be permitted, as part of a rescue system where it is not used for material handling, or a situation where more than one mechanical lift is present so that one is available for employee rescue, providing the mechanical lifts, ropes, and harness meet the requirements of the permit required confined space entry standard as well as other applicable standards.

Thank you for your inquiry. Should you have further questions, please do not hesitate to call Don Kallstrom of the Office of General Industry Compliance Assistance at 202 219-8031.


John B. Miles, Jr., Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs