If you have been in construction for any length of time, you are bound to have one story about working in an attic or crawl space; maybe it is the 140° degree heat or coming face to face with some animal or snake. Unfortunately for some, they don’t get to tell their tale…
Say hello OSHA – On May 4th (2105) they took their General Industry Standard (you know the one where people enter storm drains, etc…) and created a “Construction” specific one (1926 Subpart AA 1200-1213) that includes Crawl Spaces, Attics, Boilers & other types of confined spaces one may find in numerous residential and commercial buildings. This regulation was issued May 4th, takes limited effect on August 3rd & goes into full affect October 2nd, 2015. (Limited means they won’t fine you if you are making a “good” effort to get fully in compliance – i.e. plans in place but waiting for equipment)
Confined Space means a space that has: (1) limited means of entry/exit; (2) is large enough for someone to access it; and (3) is not designed for continuous occupancy. For example; while an attic qualifies under this provision, one that will have living space in it doesn’t (though parts may) nor does one where the drywall has not been installed.
A Permit-required confined space (aka permit space) is a confined space that may or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere (i.e. applying a sealant that is either noxious &/or flammable), engulfment hazard, or other serious hazard, such as exposed wiring, that can interfere with a worker’s ability to leave the space without assistance.
This requires a “competent person” to evaluate jobsite conditions including entry & exit points. This may require air testing for required oxygen levels (19.5-23.5%) and for the presence of hazards (carbon monoxide, gas, wires, asbestos) prior to a worker’s entry. They may also need to identify proper ventilation &/or other hazard controls required, any ongoing monitoring required, along with any additional training and rescue equipment procedures that might be needed.
Needless to say, this hit many groups that have not really had to deal with OSHA before for a loop with each scrambling to inform their members on how it may apply to them. For example RESNET sent out a letter to all Raters from their legal counsel stating “The takeaway for RESNET raters is that if they are employing workers in crawl spaces or attics that qualify as confined spaces, they are going to have to comply with the standard. Sole proprietors who are themselves the only employee of the business are not subject to the OSHA standards.” While that is somewhat correct, it is also unfortunately wrong – so with that lets take a look at who maybe impacted and what this means to them…
There are a few circumstances where not only must one comply with OSHA standards but can even be cited by them. The first if you are considered the prime contractor & you have other “crews” working under you or your direction. The second is if you are using “temporary” workers (yes even legal ones hired from a temp agency). The third is on a job site with others working on or about it. The fourth is where the General Contractor (or in the case of this standard – the Host Employer or Controlling Employer) requires you to.
Unlike many other statues or items like the EPA’s RRP regulation where building owners are off the hook they are not with this one. If you own a building with a “confined space” you fall under what is called the “Host Employer.” Both the controlling contractors and host employers (which can be one & the same) must discuss spaces on the site and their hazards with entry employers and each other before and after entry. The only exception to this is if a Building Owner has handed off the management to another company and given them the information specified in § 1926.1203(h)(1). (info known about permit spaces, like locations, past experiences, hazards, & any other pertinent information)
Ahh but does this apply to homeowners? Well yes & no. While OSHA is irrelevant in the case of your personal or vacation house, a homeowner does need to know what has happened in the past & should pass on the information to others they do hire. Own an apartment complex, rentals, etc… then yes it could impact you.
Who or What is “Qualified”
From the Regulation: An Entry supervisor means the “qualified person” (such as the employer, foreman, or crew chief) responsible for determining if acceptable entry conditions are present…
Qualified person means one who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience, has successfully demonstrated his ability to solve or resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work, or the project.
So quite simply a qualified person can be the lead carpenter, or anyone else in a similar position. They should have the knowledge & experience required – all that is required is some training on the subject. With that lets take a look at a few “types” of contractors out there that may find themselves in an interesting boat depending on circumstances.
Raters / “Energy” Auditors / Specialty Inspectors:
Let’s face it – for each of these positions, that requires one to crawl around in these spaces & there may or not be a controlling party. Does an employer need to send someone out to inspect first – no not necessarily. With some training the “inspector” should qualify as a qualified individual & unless there is additional work required should be able to diagnose the space while performing the inspection. Can it be a helper – in most cases the answer will be no for an initial foray. Now as for turning the furnace & water heater back up from pilot after everything is done, that depends on the initial inspection (do I really need to say they shouldn’t be in this space anyways…).
- New or Existing – GC – permit required: You are at the mercy of the GC for when you can enter, their training requirements, and providing a copy of your safety manual to them (yes even if you are a sole prop). It may have to be another day if the foam people are spraying (even with ventilation)
- New or Existing – GC – regular: Just let them know where you will be as they may have to make sure nothing can fall into the area
- New or Existing – no controlling party: The “qualified” person should check out the space while at minimum checking for signs of gas leakage, carbon monoxide. If musty, moldy or stale – might have to check also for oxygen levels
Insulation / Air Sealing Contractors:
In many cases this qualified person may have to override the primary qualified individual due to the materials being used. For example one must remember that other OSHA regulations also apply and when one is spraying foam only properly suited individuals should be in that area. While one can turn a “permit” type into a regular space by proving that the ventilation being used meets the requirements, no one else should still be in that space.
- New or Existing – GC: See above
- Sole Contractor: As most work in crew formats, you are required to use a qualified individual, designate the type of space & comply with the regulation.
Mechanical Contractors / Repairmen:
Like the above – if others are working they report to the GC for status. Ahh but how about the times when they have to come in and repair say a furnace in a crawl space, an AC unit in an attic, or crawl inside a boiler. In this case the individual needs to be qualified or someone else must come out first. In some cases a helper maybe required that can act as an attendant &/or rescuer which will require specific training.
Remodeling Contractors / Home Builders:
In most cases you are fully responsible for everything that goes on – yes, even if you are simply just a paper GC. While you can authorize others to perform said duties it still falls upon you to not only know the 27 page requirements, but make sure they are being met and you discuss it with the “host” and all subs. This means ensuring that you should confirm that all “crew/employee” based sub-contractors have a safety manual (and crews know where it is), they have the training (yes it can be just as simple as reading the 2 page synopsis & signing it – great Tool Box Talk item), but are acting in accordance with it.