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 http://www.osha.gov.

October 18, 1995

Charles M. Bessey
Senior Research Associate
Kolene Corporation
12890 Westwood Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48223

Dear Mr. Bessey:

This is in response to your letter of November 2, 1994 concerning when permits are required for entry into a permit required confined space. The specific question is whether a permit is required for entry into a permit-required confined space (PRCS) when the entire body will not enter the space, which has thermal and chemical hazards. The size of the opening into the PRCS is three feet by three feet and it is intended that the arm be the only part of the body that enters the PRCS. Please accept our apology for the delay in this response.

When any part of the body of an entrant breaks the plane of the opening of a PRCS large enough to allow full entry, entry is considered to have occurred and a permit is required, regardless of whether there is an intent to fully enter the space. If a part of the body were placed in an opening through which the worker could not pass into the permit-required confined space, no PRCS entry will have occurred. However, if entry by only part of the body does not expose the entrant to the possibility of injury or illness then the violation may be considered a "de minimis" violation. (A de minimis violation is one in which a standard is violated, but the violation has no direct or immediate relationship to employee safety or health. These violations are documented but no citations are issued.)

Examples of situations where entry by only part of the body into a PRCS would not expose an entrant to the possibility of injury or illness are as follows:

1. An entrant reaches through the opening of a horizontal PRCS, which is so classified only because it contains exposed live electrical parts ten feet from the opening.

2. An entrant put his head through the opening of an overhead PRCS, which is so classified only because it contains unguarded rotating parts ten feet from the opening.

Examples of situations where entry by only part of the body into a PRCS can expose an entrant to the possibility of injury or illness are as follows:

1. An entrant can possibly suffer a burn while reaching into a PRCS, which is so classified because it contains a thermal hazard.

2. An entrant can possibly fall into a below grade PRCS while standing on a vertical ladder in the opening of the space, which is so classified because it contains an oxygen deficient atmosphere.

3. An entrant can possibly become unconscious as result of his head accidentally entering a PRCS while they are reaching into a PRCS, which is so classified because it contains an oxygen deficient atmosphere.

Our interpretations of how the PRCS standard would apply in these examples is limited to the specific facts of the examples. In actual situations, all relevant factors must be considered to determine whether the PRCS standard would apply and whether a citable violation occurred.

It should be noted that an employer is obligated to take appropriate steps to protect employees reaching into a space which is not a PRCS, if such an action exposes an employee to an injury or illness.

If you have any further questions on this matter, please [contact the Office of General Industry Compliance Assistance at (202) 693-1850].

Sincerely,

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