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ASSE expresses concern over new confined space rule (3/3)

March 3, 2008
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The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) has stated in a letter to OSHA’s Edwin G. Foulke, Jr. that the recent proposed rule on Confined Spaces in Construction is unduly complicated and fails to recognize current safety practices that have proven successful both in general industry and in construction.

"This rule, if adopted without significant changes, would provide for a significantly lower level of safety than what is currently required throughout the construction industry by the Z117.1-2003 standard," ASSE President Michael W. Thompson, CSP, said in the letter, sent February 29.

ASSE serves as the Secretariat of the ANSI Z117 Accredited Standards Committee for Confined Space Entry.

"Rulemaking that provides less worker protections than that provided by a widely adopted voluntary consensus standard like Z117.1 goes against OSHA’s duty established under the 'National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995'," said Thompson.

Rather than adding clarity or advancing safety consistent with current industry safety practices, Thompson wrote, the changes offered in the proposed rule instead add a new level of complexity to confined space work while adding little new to the approaches already successfully being used to address confined space risks. It also fails to address key confined space topics including harmonization of confined space classifications, hazard assessment, assignment of responsibilities, and the continued allowance of a chest harness as part of a vertical confined space rescue effort.

Thompson was also concerned that the rule is not in harmony with the widely accepted Z117.1-2003 consensus standard “Safety Requirements for Confined Spaces.”

A comparison of Z117.1 to the proposed rule demonstrates that the existing general industry regulations together with Z117.1 does have the necessary scope, breadth and detail to help employers manage successfully confined space safety matters within the construction industry, according to ASSE.

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