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.

August 29, 2011

Mr. Thomas Cunningham
Safety Representative
Utility Workers of America, Local 1-2
121 North Harrison Avenue
Congers, NY 10920

Dear Mr. Cunningham:

This letter is in response to your January 9, 2009, correspondence to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Directorate of Enforcement Programs (DEP). You had questions regarding entry for work in enclosed spaces. Your paraphrased scenario, questions, and our replies follow. Please accept our apology for the delay in our response, which is due to numerous complex technical inquires that we received during this time. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any questions not delineated within your original correspondence.

Scenario: Employees are working in enclosed spaces covered under §1910.269(e).

Question 1: If retrieval equipment is available on an employer's vehicle at a station where a specific entry is being performed, and the device can be set up within a short duration, is that considered as "available for rescue," as required by §1910.269(e)(3)?

Response: No. Where feasible, the retrieval equipment needs to be set up and should be in place over the manhole opening and connected, ready for the prompt and safe rescue of employees from the enclosed space.

Paragraph (e)(3) of §1910.269 provides that "[e]mployers shall provide equipment to ensure the prompt and safe rescue of employees from the enclosed space."

The purpose of requiring the retrieval equipment is to rescue an employee who is injured or stricken and unable to exit the enclosed space without assistance. An example of why this is required is the fatal accident where an electric utility worker, who was splicing cable, was trapped in a manhole fire. The fire was caused by and sustained by a buildup of flammable gases underground. The employee was burned and died of smoke inhalation. Although retrieval equipment had been provided, it remained on the employer's truck while the employee was working in the manhole instead of being set up at the manhole opening and connected to the employee. (See Inspection Number 312520406)

The safety of the rescuer is also a consideration for complying with the standard. In the preamble to final 29 CFR 1910.249 standard, OSHA explained its determination that the rescue equipment "must enable a rescuer to remove an injured employee from the enclosed space quickly and without injury to the rescuer or further harm to the fallen employee."1 [emphasis added]. Disconnecting an employee, who is inside the space, from the retrieval line interferes with prompt and safe rescue in the event of an emergency situation. Should an employee require rescue, entry into the enclosed space to attach the retrieval line to the fallen employee jeopardizes the safety of the rescuer.

Question 2: Can a retrieved system be disconnected from the employee or employees within the below grade structure so that it can be used for material handling?

Response: In general no, the active retrieval system should not be used as a material handling hoist. While an employee or employees are in the below grade structure, the retrieval device is intended for the sole purpose of emergency non-entry rescue from that enclosed space.

The use of a retrieval system for lifting or lowering materials requires that the employee be disconnected from the rescue equipment. As explained in the response to Question 1, the employee should not be disconnected from the retrieval line while inside the space, because this interferes with prompt and safe rescue under §1910.269(e) in the event of an emergency situation. Also, manufacturers of rescue equipment and components generally recommend against using the retrieval system as a materials hoist for several reasons, including the possibility of damage (e.g., fraying or cutting the retrieval line), chemical contamination, and exposure to forces in excess of design specifications.

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. This letter is intended to provide information about the standards relating to work in enclosed spaces. The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to comply with safety and health standards promulgated by OSHA or by a state with an OSHA-approved state plan. However, this letter is not itself a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by change to OSHA rules. In addition, 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 www.osha.gov.   If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of General Industry Enforcement at (202) 693-1850.


Thomas Galassi, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs

1 Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution; Electrical Protective Equipment; Final Rule, 59 FR 4320476, page 4367 (Jan. 31, 1994).   [Return to Text]