This OSHA Fact Sheet highlights the confined space hazards encountered in construction pits and describes requirements for reducing those hazards.
OSHA has developed a new construction standard for Confined Spaces (29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA)— any space that meets the following three criteria:
- Is large enough for a worker to enter it;
- Has limited means of entry or exit; and
- Is not designed for continuous occupancy.
A space may also be a permit-required confined space if it has a hazardous atmosphere, the potential for engulfment or suffocation, a layout that might trap a worker through converging walls or a sloped floor, or any other serious safety or health hazard.
Confined space hazards in pits have led to worker deaths. Several tragic incidents included:
- Two workers suffocated while attempting to close gate valves in a valve pit.
- A worker lost consciousness, fell, and was killed while climbing down a ladder into an unventilated underground valve vault to turn on water valves.
- While replacing a steam-operated vertical pump, an equipment repair technician died from burns and suffocation after falling into an industrial waste pit.
The new Confined Spaces standard requires employers to ensure that their workers know about the existence, location, and dangers posed by each permit-required confined space, and that they may not enter such spaces without authorization.
Employers must train workers involved in permitrequired confined space operations so that they can perform their duties safely and understand the hazards in permit spaces and the methods used to isolate, control or protect workers from these hazards. Workers not authorized to perform entry rescues must be trained on the dangers of attempting such rescues.
Safe Entry Requirements
The new Confined Spaces standard includes several requirements for safe entry.
Preparation: Before workers can enter a confined space, employers must provide pre-entry planning. This includes:
- Having a competent person evaluate the work site for the presence of confined spaces, including permit-required confined spaces.
- Once the space is classified as a permitrequired confined space, identifying the means of entry and exit, proper ventilation methods, and elimination or control of all potential hazards in the space.
- Ensuring that the air in a confined space is tested, before workers enter, for oxygen levels, flammable and toxic substances, and stratified atmospheres.
- If a permit is required for the space, removing or controlling hazards in the space and determining rescue procedures and necessary equipment.
- If the air in a space is not safe for workers, ventilating or using whatever controls or protections are necessary so that employees can safely work in the space.
Ongoing practices: After pre-entry planning, employers must ensure that the space is monitored for hazards, especially atmospheric hazards. Effective communication is important because there can be multiple contractors operating on a site, each with its own workers needing to enter the confined space. Attendants outside confined spaces must make sure that unauthorized workers do not enter them. Rescue attempts by untrained personnel can lead to multiple deaths.
Confined Spaces in Pits
Even though a pit is typically open on top and over 4 feet deep, it can still be a confined space or permit-required confined space. Additionally, pits can be completely underground or below grade, such as a utility vault within a sewer system or a pit within a pit in a wastewater treatment plant. Pits are found in many environments. Examples include sump pits, valve pits or vaults (e.g., wastewater treatment plants, municipal water systems), electrical pits/vaults, steam pits/ vaults, vehicle service/garage pits, elevator pits, dock leveler pits, industrial chemical waste pits, and many more. Many of these spaces qualify as permit-required confined spaces. Employers must take all necessary steps to keep workers safe in confined spaces, including following the OSHA Construction Confined Spaces standard. This standard applies to both new construction in a pit and alterations and/or upgrades. Among the pit-related tasks covered by the standard are:
- Opening or closing valves during renovation work.
- Installing or upgrading pump equipment, cables, or junction boxes.
Construction work can create confined spaces, even if there are none at the start of a project. Changes to the entry/exit, the ease of exit, and air flow could produce a confined space or cause one to become permit-required.
Personal protective equipment: Employers should assess the worksite to determine what personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed to protect workers. Employers should provide workers with the required PPE and proper training on its use and about any related hazards before the work starts.
How to Contact OSHA
For questions or to get information or advice, to find out how to contact OSHA’s free on-site consultation program, order publications, report a fatality or severe injury, or to file a confidential complaint, visit www.osha.gov or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
- OSHA’s Confined Spaces in Construction Standard (29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA)
- Confined Spaces: OSHA Construction Industry Topics by Standard
- OSHA Fact Sheet: Procedures for Atmospheric Testing in Confined Spaces
- Confined Spaces: NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topics Page
- State Plan Guidance: States with OSHA-approved state plans may have additional requirements for confined space safety.
- Help for Small and Medium-Sized Employers: OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential advice to businesses nationwide.
This is one in a series of informational fact sheets highlighting OSHA programs, policies or
standards. It does not impose any new compliance requirements. For a comprehensive list of
compliance requirements of OSHA standards or regulations, refer to Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This information will be made available to sensory-impaired individuals upon request.
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