Confined Spaces: Need for Clarity

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) put its Confined Spaces in Construction standard into effect on August 3. Now, anyone working in attics or crawlspaces must follow safety protocols similar to those that have long been required for utility workers in manholes.

In a webinar by the Building Performance Institute, OSHA Compliance Assistant Specialist Ron Williams said possible hazards range from open attic floor joists to carbon monoxide from HVAC equipment to fumes generated while blowing foam insulation. The safety protocols depend on the hazards but could include posting someone outside the space, written safety plans, and atmospheric testing.

"Small employers will have to put some effort into understanding the standard, because there are layers of requirements that can make it seem less than straightforward," says Tressi L. Cordaro, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney with Jackson Lewis who advises employers on OSHA-related issues.

One possible problem on subcontracted jobs, she says, stems from the differing requirements for general contractors (GCs) and subcontractors. The GC has to brief the sub about hazards and required permits, while the sub must ensure that workers follow the relevant protocols. However, the GC's liability in the event of an injury is unclear.

"It may be problematic because the GC may not be on the site to see who is going into the space," says Cordaro. "We're hoping that the agency will issue some guidance in the near future on what they expect."


Silica: Fenced In

The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed Silica Dust rule would cut workers' permissible exposure to airborne silica dust generated by activities like cutting concrete tile and fiber cement. It would also include recordkeeping and medical monitoring requirements. OSHA administrator David Michaels wants the rule implemented before the end of 2018, at the latest.

That timetable has hit a roadblock. Congress added "fencing language" to the most recent Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill that basically defunds implementation until additional studies are completed. These include studies by a review panel on how the rule will impact small business, as well as by the National Academy of Sciences on the rule's epidemiological justification, the efficacy of sampling technologies, and the ability of regulated industries to comply.

RRP: Relief on Testing?

The EPA's Renovation Repair and Painting (RRP) rule requires lead-safe work practices when paint has a lead concentration of more than 0.5% by weight. It also requires that an inexpensive field test kit be developed to measure that lead concentration. We're still waiting.

Current kits merely identify whether or not lead is present. Industry pros say that's costing money, because many remodelers use lead-safe practices by default to avoid more expensive and time-consuming XRF or lab testing. "If there were a field test that accurately measured the amount of lead in a paint sample, thousands of homes wouldn't need RRP that now do," says Mark Paskell, a Massachusetts-based RRP trainer.

The EPA held a public hearing in June to discuss the issue. According to Randi Hutchinson, lobbyist for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, the meeting was in response to a rider that Congress added to the EPA's FY15 budget appropriation, directing the agency to either develop a kit or revisit the criteria for requiring lead-safe practices.

The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) is pushing for the latter. If no testing is done, the current rule mandates lead-safe practices on homes built before 1978. Bob Hanbury, a Newington, Conn., builder/remodeler who represented NAHB at the meeting says the association wants the EPA to roll that back to pre-1960 homes. "Homes built between 1960 and 1978 have a low probability of lead paint," he says. "Even fewer have lead at a problem level."

So far, there has been no word from EPA on what their next move might be.