Employer's Guide to OSHA Permit-Required Confined Spaces

A worker descends down a ladder into a metal tank fitted with a ventilation system during the work.

Confined spaces exist in many workplaces and industries, and while they’re small and not necessarily designed for people, they’re large enough for workers to perform specific job duties. Because they also pose greater risks of accidents and injuries, they’re more closely regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

According to OSHA (1910.146(c)(1) and (2)), a “confined space” as any space which meets the following criteria:

  1. The space is large enough for a worker to enter and perform work;
  2. The space has restricted or limited means of entry / exit; and
  3. The space is not designed to be continuously occupied.

For a confined space to be considered a “permit-required confined space” (sometimes called a “permit space”) at least one of the following additional criteria must apply:

  1. The space contains a substance which may asphyxiate or engulf workers; or
  2. There is a potentially hazardous atmosphere; or
  3. The space has walls which converge inwardly or a floor which slopes downward and tapers into a small cross-section; or
  4. The space contains any other health or safety hazard.

Employer Requirements & Entry Permits

Per OSHA, if a confined space contains any of the above potential hazards, employers must:

  • Identify it as such (i.e. posting “danger confined spaces” signs or communicating through other means; and
  • Develop a written safety program outlining proper procedures for working in and around these spaces.

One of the most essential parts of a safety plan to address a confined space with any of the four hazards identified above is to draft an entry permit to control and limit who can enter the space. OSHA regulations for confined space entry permits are notoriously dense. In fact, there are 14 specific criteria which must be met. This includes information about the:

  1. Space being entered
  2. Reason for entry
  3. Permit’s date and duration
  4. Authorized entrants
  5. Attendants’ names
  6. Supervisors’ names
  7. Hazards within the confined space
  8. Hazard-mitigation measures (ventilation, lockout / tagging, etc.)
  9. Acceptable conditions for entry
  10. Inspection results (accompanied by initials / names and dates)
  11. Services to call in the event of emergency;
  12. Communication protocol to be used during entry
  13. Required equipment (i.e. PPE, communication devices, etc.)
  14. Other relevant information / permit for the particular space.

Confined Space Violations

Confined spaces account for numerous workplace injuries and deaths in the U.S. Regulators claim that’s because employers and employees fail to properly prepare for and address all hazards contained within the spaces.

To protect workers and avoid citations, employers need to ensure they:

  • Distinguish between a confined space which does not require a permit and a permit-required confined space;
  • Properly identify the permit space;
  • Draft an adequate safety plan; and
  • Address all required information in permits.

Proactive & Responsive OSHA Representation

Hendershot Cowart P.C. maintains an active OSHA law practice in which we counsel and represent employers across Texas and the country. Our attorneys offer services to help employers create effective, proactive safeguards, safety compliance plans, and policies involving permit-required confined spaces and other workplace hazards, and to defend against any citations or violations to which they’re subject. From inspections to catastrophes, our experience can make the difference for employers facing high-stakes proceedings.

If you have questions about your rights and options, call (713) 909-7323 or contact us online to speak with a lawyer.

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