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.

March 18, 1998

Mr. Jesse L. McDaniel
Countrymark Cooperative, Inc.
950 North Meridian Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204-3909

Dear Mr. McDaniel:

This is in response to your letter of December 5, 1997, requesting clarification of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforcement policy and clarification of paragraph 29 CFR 1910.146(c)(2). Please accept our apology for the delay in this response.

Questions concerning OSHA's policy for "Repeat" violations

How much time must pass between a first violation for a given issue, and another violation of the same issue, before it is considered a repeat violation. Essentially, the question is when does the clock quit ticking?

Response: An employer may be cited for a repeat violation if that employer has been cited previously for a substantially similar condition and the citation has become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (Commission). There are no statutory limitations upon the length of time that a citation may serve as a basis for a repeat violation.

However, to ensure uniformity, OSHA's citation policy is to issue a repeat citation if: 1) The repeat citation is issued within 3 years of the final order date of the previous citation, or; 2) The citation is issued within 3 years of the final abatement date of the previous citation, whichever is later.

If a given facility is cited for a violation, and is subsequently cited again for the same violation, how much time must elapse between the first and second citation before this is considered a "new" issue?

Response: There is not any minimum time limit between the first and second citation. The only condition, as stated above, is that the first citation must have become a final order of the Commission.

Additionally, what are some of the considerations that a field compliance officer may take into account in determining whether this is a new or isolated event, or a continuing (repeat) problem?

Response: As stated above, the only consideration is that the repeat violation is based on a substantially similar condition and the citation on which it is based has become a final order of the Commission. Normally, however, OSHA will only classify a proposed citation as "repeat" if it is within 3 years of the final order date or the final abatement date of the previous citation, whichever is later.

Questions concerning 29 CFR 1910.146(c)(2)

The answer to this and other questions concerning the Permit-Required Confined Spaces (PRCS) standard can be found in OSHA instruction CPL 2.100 found on the Internet at [http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_data]

Is it necessary to physically place a sign on the entryway to a given confined space? Or, would it be acceptable to ensure that all personnel are fully aware, through documented training, of the various confined spaces at a facility and the proper procedures that must be followed prior to entry?

Response: Ordinarily, information about permit spaces is most effectively and economically communicated through the use of signs. Consequently, signs would be the principal method of warning under the standard. Alternative methods, such as additional training, may be used where they are truly effective in warning all employees who could reasonably be expected to enter the space. It is the employer's obligation to assure that an alternative method is at least as effective as a sign. In some cases, employers may have to provide training in addition to signs, to protect employees who do not speak English or who would have difficulty understanding or interpreting signs. (One method by which OSHA can gauge an employer's effectiveness is through random interviews of affected employees.)

If a space has a locked entry cover or panel, or an access door that can only be opened with special tools, the use of signs may be unnecessary if the employer ensures that all affected employees are informed about such spaces and know that they are not to be opened without taking proper precautions, including temporary signs, to restrict unexpected or unknowing entry.

If there has been any case work involving either of these issues (specific citations or Review Commission cases), this would be very helpful

The Directorate of Compliance Programs does not maintain a library of Commission cases; however, the Commission has an Internet site [http://www.oshrc.gov/] where cases and decisions can be found.

Additionally, if any directives or interpretation documents related to these issues exist, can you provide copies?

Since OSHA has put all public domain documents on the Internet, we no longer provide copies of them as enclosures with our correspondence. The relevant directive and letters of interpretation you have requested can be found on OSHA's Internet homepage [http://www.osha.gov] or via the OSHA CD-ROM available through the Government Printing Office [http://gpo.gov/su_docs/] or any of the United States Government Bookstores.

If you have further questions on this letter please contact Don Kallstrom (202) 219-8031, x113 in the Office of General Industry Compliance Assistance.


John B. Miles, J
Directorate of Compliance Programs