Identifying confined spaces and using contractors

Date Posted: 08/26/2019

Your workplace likely contains some areas that are hard to reach, and may even be awkward to enter, such as crawlspaces. When these confined locations don't pose additional hazards to employees (such as atmospheric or physical hazards), your employees don't need special permission or procedures to enter them.

Confined SpaceSome confined spaces, however, present hazards such as low oxygen, flammable or toxic gasses, or even converging walls that could trap and suffocate an employee in the space. The presence of such hazards makes them permit-required confined spaces. All employers should identify the existence of any permit spaces.

If your workplace contains any permit-required confined spaces, you must inform employees by posting danger signs (or by any other effective means) of the existence and location of them, and the danger posed by the permit spaces.

If you decide that your employees will not enter permit spaces, you must still take effective measures to prevent your employees from entering the permit spaces.

For necessary maintenance, you might decide to hire a contractor, or your employees might share entry operations. Either way, you'll have some obligations to the contractor.

Using contractors

Even if contractors will handle all permit space entry, you aren’t free from responsibilities. The contractor will need information regarding permit space hazards and entry operations. As the host employer, you must:

  • Inform the contractor that permit space entry is allowed only through compliance with a permit space program meeting OSHA's requirements;
  • Tell the contractor about the elements that make the confined space a permit space, including the hazards identified and your experience with the space; and
  • Advise the contractor of any precautions or procedures you've implemented to protect employees in or near permit spaces where contractor personnel will be working.

You and the contractor will need to coordinate the entry and operations because certain activities near a permit space could affect conditions within the space. For example, running a generator nearby might introduce exhaust into the space.

Once the contractor has concluded the entry operations, you and the contractor must meet to discuss the program that was followed, as well as any hazards confronted.

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