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.

July 22, 1998

Dear Mr. Black:

Thank you for your letter of May 21 requesting clarification of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) 29 CFR 1910.146(c)(2) standard requirement to inform exposed employees of the presence of permit-required confined spaces (PRCS) in the workplace.

Paragraph (c)(2) was interpreted in OSHA instruction [CPL 2.100, May 5, 1995], and is provided below.

How will OSHA interpret the language in paragraph 1910.146(c)(2) requiring employers to inform employees of permit spaces by posting signs or "by any other equally effective means?"

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 sign's 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

You specifically asked us: "Will you please clarify the conditions under which labels (as warnings) must be applied to entry points of PRCS? Please emphasize in your response, when in the process of coming into compliance with the standard, must labels/warnings be applied."

After April 15, 1993, once an employer has determined a permit-required confined space exists (a confined space with an actual or potential hazard), the employer is obligated by paragraph 1910.146(c)(2) to inform exposed employees either by posting a sign or other effective means. Since the purpose of this paragraph is to provide the exposed employees with information to protect them from the hazard, the "when" an employee must be informed is before the next entry.

Your letter made reference to Federal OSHA officials in Indianapolis. The State of Indiana has been ceded jurisdiction under Section 18 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to enact and in enforce standards at least as effective as the Federal standards. You may also wish to contact them to see if the State standards for permit required confined space are indeed more stringent than the Federal PRCS standard. The address for the State of Indiana is.

Indiana Department of Labor
[Indiana Government Center - South]
402 West Washington Street, Room W195
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204



if you have further questions on this letter, please contact [the Office of General Industry Enforcement at (202) 693-1850].


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

[Corrected 10/20/2006]