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.

April 17, 1998

B. J. Thompson, Ph.D., PE
Pinkerton Security & Investigation Services
1510 Fisher Building
3011 West Grand Boulevard
Detroit, MI 48202

Dear Dr. Thompson:

This is in response to your letter February 23, sent to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Office of Information, requesting an interpretation of 29 CFR 1910.146(k), the rescue and emergency services paragraph of the Permit-Required Confined Spaces (PRCS) standard. Your request was forwarded to the Directorate of Compliance Programs for response. We have repeated your question for clarity to third party readers.

If all of the itemized requirements listed under §1910.146 are met, can entry be made into a permit-required confined space to extinguish an incipient fire without first obtaining a permit to enter?

As a point of clarification, this response is in the context of 29 CFR 1910.155 standard's definition of incipient stage fire. As defined, "Incipient stage fire" means a fire which is in the initial or beginning stage and which can be controlled or extinguished by portable fire extinguishers, Class II standpipe or small hose systems without the need for protective clothing or breathing apparatus.

The answer to your question is yes for the following reasons:


1. The scope of the PRCS standard paragraph (k) is directed to providing aid and assistance to a permit space entrant during an entry operation, not general fire fighting emergencies that could occur in a confined space, permit-required or not. This is evidenced in the beginning of the standard's preamble discussion on paragraph (k) found on page 4524, copy attached.

2. When evaluating requests such as yours, 29 CFR 1910.5 contains the guidance used by OSHA for determining applicability of standards. This standard states in paragraph (c)(1) ". . . If a particular standard is specifically applicable to a condition, practice, means, method, operation, or process, it shall prevail over any different general standard which might otherwise be applicable to the same condition, practice, means, method, operation, or process."

Under the conditions described in your letter, the 29 CFR 1910.156 - Fire brigades standard is viewed as the more applicable of the two standards and thus is deemed to prevail over the Permit-Required Confined Spaces standard 29 CFR 1910.146. Specifically, 1910.156(c)(4) requires Pinkerton or General Motors to develop written procedures and train first responders to address situations involving special hazards. It is our position that confined spaces should be viewed as a special hazard condition.

The above discussion is for conditions where a PRCS entry is not occurring. If a fire were to start in a permit space or adjacent to a permit space during an actual entry, the authorized entrants must be required to immediately exit and the entry permit canceled until the fire emergency is over. Retesting of the space to ensure acceptable entry conditions must also be done prior to the authorized entrant re-entering the space.

If you have further questions on this letter, contact Mr. Don Kallstrom in the Office of General Industry compliance assistance (202) 919-8031.


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