The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) extended the deadline for comments on a proposed rule for construction in confined spaces from Jan. 28 to Feb. 28, 2008, following vocal opposition from utility contractors and others in the construction industry. The proposed rules were issued on Nov. 28, 2007, and establish four classifications for confined spaces—isolated hazard, controlled atmosphere, permit required and continuous system permit required.

Previous OSHA training and education offered little guidance. Contractors have been using the general industry standard as a result, and they say the new classification system is confusing and that it is now unclear which category to use at particular sites.

The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) agreed the industry needs a standard to strengthen OSHA’s confined work space requirements but expressed the concern that the new requirements’ practical applications and the conformance to the rule would suffer due to their complexity.

“Regulations, codes and standards are effective when they are understandable, practical and enforceable,” said Michael Johnston, NECA’s executive director of standards and safety. “NECA has concerns about the complexity and additional burden of the new proposed regulations, and additional costs associated with their implementation may cause the industry to ignore the rules in some cases, placing workers at risk.”

To reduce the risk that reasonable contractors may ignore such an important rule, NECA has suggested OSHA clarify the work space classification, making the regulations less intimidating.

However, Ted Saito of the Engineering and Utility Contractors Association expressed concern with the new requirements, fearing they will increase expenses without notable safety benefits. He said requirements, such as early warning systems, re-evaluation of procedures, and additional reassessments in the event of an emergency or ventilation failure, will “cause an enormous amount of record keeping for training … that will result in financial hardship to all employers without increasing employee safety.”

OSHA’s proposed rule created many reactions in the industry. To read NECA’s comments to the proposed OSHA confined space rule for construction, visit www.necanet.org.