The top four deadliest construction industry hazards are falls from elevated locations, being struck by a moving vehicle or equipment, electrocutions, and being caught in or in between a confined space, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
This blog will look at one of the top increasing causes of construction fatalities: being caught in a small space or between two objects, also known as “confined spaces.”
Confined Spaces Risk for Construction Workers
It is estimated that almost 800 contractors are killed or seriously injured while working in confined spaces per year.
A “confined space” is defined as an area with limited entry and exit points that is not designed for people to occupy, but is nonetheless large enough for people to enter. Confined spaces include manholes, crawl spaces, tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, pits, tunnels, equipment housings, ductwork, pipelines, and other small areas that are not designed for continued occupancy.
Confined spaces are dangerous areas because there is high risk for several different problems: spread of toxic substances, electrocutions, explosions, and asphyxiations. In addition, confined spaces are difficult to exit quickly in the case of any emergency.
Most often a second contractor will enter the confined space to rescue another worker trapped or suffering an injury. Unfortunately, instead of successfully rescuing the first, the second worker will many times suffer the same injury.
New OSHA Confined Spaces Rule
The construction site is a work area that is continually evolving as new technology and ideas emerge. Confined spaces particular is an aspect of the construct site that is recently growing in quantity and frequently changing in characteristics. The evolution of confined spaces has unfortunately caused an increase in contractor injuries.
In fact, the risk of injury from confined spaces has increased so dramatically in recent years that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new confined spaces rule to protect workers last month. The OSHA previously only called for one training requirement for construction workers completing tasks in confined spaces. The new regulation consists of a “comprehensive standard that includes a permit program designed to protect employees from exposure to many hazards associated with work in confined spaces, including atmospheric and physical hazards.”
The manufacturing and general industries have utilized similar regulations for over twenty years. This replacement rule for the construction industry is now similar to the confined spaces rules that are mandated in the manufacturing and general industries, with a few additional provisions to account for construction-specific hazards.
The new rule makes sure adequate safety information is shared and hazards are continuously monitored through a higher standard of training, worksite evaluation, and communication.
In addition, the new OSHA regulation requires a permit for workers to enter a confined space that exhibits one or more of the following qualities:
- “Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere
- Contains a material that has the potential to engulf an entrant
- Has walls that converge inward
- Has floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area which could trap or asphyxiate an entrant
- Contains any other recognized safety or health hazard, such as unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, or heat stress”
Confined Spaces Injury Prevention on the Construction Site
Entering and working in confined spaces is often necessary in the construction industry. It’s important to use precautions and follow safety rules when working in these areas. Although accidents happen, taking the proper precautions can significantly reduce your chance of injury. The United States Department of Labor offers this advice to construction workers to help prevent this deadly accident:
- Always utilize an adequate protective system when entering a trench or excavation five feet or deeper
- Use discretion and good judgement when entering a trench or excavation less than five feet, as these may also require an adequate protective system
- Never enter a trench or excavation that is not protected by either sloping, shoring, benching or trench shield systems
Legal Help for Injured Contractors in New Jersey
Contractors have the legal right to a safe and healthful workplace. If you are a construction worker that has been injured while in a confined space, you should consult with a lawyer. You may be eligible for monetary benefits for your medical expenses, missed wages, and continued disability. Do not worry that your employer may retaliate against you for reporting your injury or raising a health and safety concern. It is your right under the law to look out for your health at work. Any employer retaliation is strictly prohibited.