Personnel Safety, Regulatory Developments

OSHA Launches Confined Space Enforcement Programs

Two regional offices of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched regional emphasis programs (REP) to enforce the agency’s permit-required confined spaces standard (29 CFR §1910.146) in the transportation and tank-cleaning industries. OSHA’s Region 5 office (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin) initiated an REP effective August 2, and the agency’s Region 6 office (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas) announced an REP effective July 23.

In states with their own workplace safety and health programs, such as Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico, OSHA’s REPs only apply to worksites under federal jurisdiction.

In addition to inspecting worksites for compliance with the permit-required confined spaces standard, the REPs will check for compliance with the hazard communication, personal protective equipment (PPE), and respiratory protection standards. Common industrywide hazards include chemical, electrical, fall, noise, struck-by, and thermal hazards.

Agency compliance safety and health officers (CSHO) also will review employers’ injury and illness logs, including first-aid and nursing logs, for the past five years to identify common hazards. Conditions and hazards can vary from workplace to workplace depending on work operations, the agency says.

OSHA’s Region 5 Chicago office has investigated 23 worker deaths and 97 incidents, including an Ohio worker tasked with cleaning a chemical tanker trailer who collapsed upon entering the tank. A truck driver answering the employee’s call for help entered the tank. Both workers succumbed to fatal toxic fumes.

An Illinois worker opened the lid of a tanker trailer containing toluene and was found a short time later lying across the open dome and unresponsive. He was rushed to a nearby hospital and survived after being treated for respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.

The Region 5 REP begins with a three-month outreach, including informational mailings to employers, as well as apprenticeship programs, local hospitals and occupational health clinics, local safety councils, and professional associations, along with presentations by OSHA to industry organizations and stakeholders.

Following the outreach, OSHA will schedule inspections of targeted industries in Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin and those under federal jurisdiction in Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota.

Area offices in OSHA’s Region 6 have conducted 136 inspections since 2016 to reduce the risks faced by tank-cleaning workers. Industries typically involved in tank-cleaning activities include material recovery, rail and road transportation, remediation services, trucking, and waste management services.

“Too often, employers allow workers to enter tanks without testing atmospheric conditions, completing confined space entry permits, or providing adequate respiratory protection,” OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin in Dallas said in an agency statement. “Companies with active safety and health programs that train workers to identify hazardous conditions and use required protective measures can prevent serious and fatal injuries.”

As in Region 5, Region 6’s REP will begin with outreach through mailings to employers, as well as apprenticeship programs, local hospitals and occupational health clinics, local safety councils, professional associations, and presentations by OSHA professionals to industry organizations and stakeholders. Following the three-month outreach, the agency will schedule inspections of targeted industries in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana.