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OSHA's guidelines on enclosed spaces

There are many circumstances under which Pennsylvania employees may be directed to enter an enclosed space during their work day. In 1993, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration established a set of standards for safety in enclosed spaces, defining what an enclosed space is and how it should be maintained. The agency has recently adopted a new set of standards specifically targeting construction sites as in need of requiring special consideration and different forms of supervision.

OSHA defines an enclosed space as any area that an employee must enter that was not designed for continuous human occupation and contains only limited entrances or exits. Such areas are known to be potentially hazardous to employee health, especially when there are issues such as airborne toxins that are concentrated by the confined space, materials and surfaces that could fall on or engulf a worker or spaces that are constructed in in such a way that an employee could become trapped in them.

The new standards applicable to construction sites that will take effect in August 2015 require that these spaces must be overseen by a series of responsible parties and specific levels of communication must be maintained among them. They also require that a competent person inspect and evaluate all enclosed spaces, and they address the common issue of when a construction site has multiple employers.

Those who are injured on the job at a construction site may wish to speak with an attorney to determine if they are eligible to file a claim for workers' compensation benefits. In some cases where the injury was caused by the negligence or recklessness of a non-employer third party, it may be possible to pursue a separate lawsuit against such responsible person or entity as well.

Source: OH&S Online, "OSHA's New Confined Space Standard", Chris Irwin and Jessica Smith, July 1, 2015

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