New OSHA Confined Space Rules: Big Change for Home Handymen

According to OSHA, 800,000 Americans work in the residential construction and repair industry.  New rules on confined spaces on construction sites will impact anyone involved in commercial construction, but the real change may be for everyone in residential construction, from new home builders to hot water heater maintenance services.

The change came in May when OSHA added confined space requirements to its 26 CFR 1926 Construction Standards.  The change goes into effect on August 3rd.   However, last week OSHA announced a new temporary enforcement policy that says it will not begin citing employers until October.  That is to give companies more time to comply.

The change for residential construction and repair could be huge.  The new rule specifically lists crawl spaces and Attic water heaterattics as confined spaces.  OSHA says it was prompted to add them because of recent accidents:

  • Two workers died while applying primer to floor joists in a crawl space. They were burned when an incandescent work lamp ignited vapors from the primer.
  • A flash fire killed a worker who was spraying foam insulation in an enclosed attic. The fire was caused by poor ventilation.

Now just imagine what this means for companies that do residential construction or repairs.  A water heater service company will need to provide training in confined space, evaluation of the space by a competent person and PPE.  That is a big change for an industry that is likely to send a one-man crews out to check a heater in someone’s attic.

We shouldn’t forget that this has an impact on the land oil and gas industry, where many of the tasks that precede drilling fall under the construction standard.  However, most oil companies have expected all of their contractors to follow OSHA’s General Industry Standards on confined space.   Generally the differences in the new construction rules are aimed at making sure that everyone on a multi-employer site is made aware of confined spaces and the hazards associated with them.

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