Revised standard on confined space available this summer

Confined space entry can expose workers to a multitude of hazards, ranging from poor air quality, fire and residual chemicals, to noise, entanglement, temperature extremes and uncontrolled energy. Standards such as OSHA 29 CFR 1910.146 and ANSI/ASSE Z117.1, Safety Requirements for Confined Spaces, aim to help employers address these hazards, with Z117.1 providing the most comprehensive guidance.

The latest revision of the widely used Z117.1 consensus standard (which will be renamed Safety Requirements for Entering a Confined Space) is nearly complete and is expected to be available this summer. While the Z117 Accredited Standards Committee has made many updates during this process, Tim Fisher, ASSE’s director of standards, points to two changes in particular that will likely have the greatest effect on OSH practice in the field.

“The first involves identifying and evaluating a confined space,” he says. “The committee saw the need to shift the focus from coordination to comprehensive management of the space, which requires a different mind-set.” According to Fisher, from an implementation perspective, OSH professionals using this standard will need to be more proactive when it comes to identifying and classifying the sites for which they are responsible.

The second significant revision involves the standard’s training requirements, which have been clarified and strengthened. “The training content places much greater emphasis on ensuring that trainees know how to use the information presented, both before and during an entry operation,” Fisher explains.

When talking to management about using a consensus standard like Z117.1, OSH professionals may encounter resistance, especially if the company already complies with 1910.146.

To counter these arguments, Fisher advises OSH professionals to focus on the fact that Z117.1 surpasses the federal standard in several ways. “Complying with OSHA’s standard will give an employer a bare-bones program,” Fisher says, “but Z117.1 provides much more detail on critical areas such as training, rescue, use of instruments, and proactive evaluation of both permit-required and non-permit-required confined spaces.”

He also reports that the standard contains technical information and guidance that is not addressed by regulation and/or in other documents. Rescue operations are one example. “National data indicate that too many workers are injured or killed during confined space rescue operations,” Fisher says. “The Z117.1 guidance on rescue provides a proven base from which any company can develop effective rescue plans and procedures.”

Source: The American Society of Safety Engineers



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