UPDATE: In October, OSHA announced it will delay enforcement of the Confined Spaces in Construction Standard until Jan. 8, 2016. Although the ruling went into effect Aug. 3, OSHA has agreed to refrain from issuing citations to any employer that is making good-faith efforts to comply with the standard.

On May 4, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a long-awaited final rule affecting the training requirements for employees working in confined spaces in construction, which now includes attics and crawlspaces — areas where HVAC equipment is frequently located. The rule, which took effect Aug. 3 and will be enforceable after Oct. 2, adds a new subpart to the existing rule and includes a permit program designed to protect employees from exposure to the many hazards associated with work in confined spaces, including atmospheric and physical hazards.

While some industrial and commercial HVACR contractors are already acclimated to the OSHA requirements, which have long applied to confined spaces, such as tunnels and man holes, they, along with residential HVAC contractors, will need to make sure they are on top of the new requirements.

“OSHA’s new Standard on Confined Spaces in Construction changes the way mechanical construction contractors approach confined space safety,” said Tom Skaggs, chairman of the health committee at the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and vice president of operations for Murphy Co.

John Jones, national technical director, Building Performance Institute Inc. (BPI), agreed the rule will definitely affect HVACR contractors. “It’s just a matter of putting practices in place and assuring contractors are following them,” he added.


A confined space is an area that is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter it, has limited or restricted means for entry and exit, and is not designed for continuous employee occupancy. OSHA included crawlspaces and attics in its final rule after two workers were killed when an incandescent work lamp ignited vapors from the primer they were applying to floor joists in a crawl space. In a separate incident, another individual was killed after a flash fire occurred when he was spraying foam insulation in an enclosed attic with poor ventilation. OSHA estimates the rule will prevent nearly 800 serious injuries per year.

“If you’re going up into an attic that is extremely hot or has open ceiling joists that you’d be walking across, those are now affected by this rule,” Jones explained. “Contractors are going to have to take measures to comply with this standard.”

Per the standard, employers must provide pre-entry planning before entering the confined space, including:

• Having a competent person evaluate the work site for the presence of confined spaces, including permit-required confined spaces;

• Identifying the means of entry and exit, proper ventilation methods, and elimination or control of all potential hazards in the space once the space is classified as a permit-required confined space;

• Ensuring that the air in a confined space is tested before workers enter for oxygen levels, flammable and toxic substances, and stratified atmospheres;

• Removing or controlling hazards in the space and determining rescue procedures and necessary equipment if a permit is required for the space; and

• Ventilating or using whatever controls or protections are necessary so employees can safely work in the space.


According to OSHA, a permit-required confined space, or permit space, is a confined space that has one or more of the following characteristics: it contains or has a potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere, it contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant, it has an internal configuration such that an entrant could be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor that slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section, or it contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard. The new confined spaces standard requires employers to, among other things, ensure their workers know about the existence, location, and dangers posed by each permit-required confined space, and that they may not enter such spaces without authorization.

“The word ‘permit’ usually means paying a certain amount of money, but, in this case, the permit is actually created and issued by the contractor — not OSHA,” Jones said. “The permit is completed and posted by the contractor or employer of employees who are going to be entering a permit-required confined space. This permit is basically a sheet of paper that lists the name of the space, the reason you’re going in, the date, and the duration for which the permit needs to be issued — so if you’re in there for one day, they need to have that listed on the permit — what are the acceptable entry conditions, who can enter, who the attendant is, the name of the supervisor and signature, any hazardous conditions that exist, methods to detect increases in hazardous atmospheric conditions, and more.”

The point, Jones said, is to make sure each employer documents their standard operating procedures for permit-required confined spaces. “These guys are doing this stuff — it just hasn’t always been documented and written out. Now, they’re asking employers to document this so, if something happens, OSHA understands what was done. The rule also ensures a level of quality management so employees that are working in these confined spaces know what the procedures are for working in there. It all goes to making sure the right hand knows what the left is doing.”


Charlie McCrudden, senior vice president of government relations for ACCA, said the training on the new standard is the biggest requirement for HVAC contractors at the moment.

“In many ways, the rule is very similar to the general industry rules, so there really isn’t much of a difference that calls out new things,” he said. “However, there are certain requirements, one of which is a requirement to train in the construction industry in the hazards that may be found in the confined space and a permit-required confined space. There’s a requirement to train employees, and that deadline was extended [from Aug. 3 to Oct. 2].”

“MCAA requested an extension of the new standard’s original Aug. 3 enforcement date so we could prepare materials for our members to use in training their employees,” said Pete Chaney, MCAA’s director of safety and health. MCAA recently released a video for its members that provides fast-paced training on the new standard’s confined space classifications, potential confined space hazards, and methods used to isolate or control the hazards or otherwise protect the entrants. It also reviews the duties of authorized entrants and attendants.

Jon Melchi, vice president of government affairs and business development for Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), said his organization is keeping an eye on the rule and how it is affecting HARDI’s members.

“It’s something we’re watching because our customers are possibly going to be impacted,” he said. “It’s something our members can tell their customers, especially the smaller contractors who maybe aren’t ACCA members. This is something we’ll try to communicate to people.”

“Contractors are going to have to be more aware of confined spaces,” McCrudden added. “If they’re doing any work [in confined spaces], they have to look at ventilation in crawlspaces if they’re doing any burning or cutting, and, if there are hazards present, they must ensure they have the proper protective measures in place and have additional people available who are trained in how to react in the case of an incident in a confined space.”

Jones also said contractors need to understand what the information means, what the definitions are, what a permit is, who develops it, and who issues it. “What OSHA tried to do is deal with a situation to protect workers in a method that will work in the industry,” he said.

To help ensure contractors know their new responsibilities, BPI recently hosted a webinar in conjunction with an OSHA official. To view the free webinar, visit http://bit.ly/BPIwebinar. For more information, and to read the rule itself, visit http://bit.ly/OSHAConfinedSpaces.

Publication date: 8/10/2015

Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!