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Short on specifics

The current standard by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that covers confined spaces in construction provides few specific requirements for employers overseeing construction work — including public works departments whose crews install and repair sewer and water systems.

The standard states:

“ … ‘confined or enclosed space' means any space having a limited means of egress, which is subject to the accumulation of toxic or flammable contaminants or has an oxygen-deficient atmosphere. Confined or enclosed spaces include, but are not limited to, storage tanks, process vessels, bins, boilers, ventilation or exhaust ducts, sewers, underground utility vaults, tunnels, pipelines, and open top spaces more than 4 feet in depth such as pits, tubs, vaults, and vessels.”

That requires two things of employers: They must instruct their employees about confined-space hazards; and they must comply with other OSHA construction standards that address confined-space hazards.

It simply requires employers to train their employees who work in confined spaces, but it does not address how those employees should be protected.