Cal/OSHA Confined by New Confined Space Rules

Fed/OSHA is in a rush to accomplish all it can before the curtain closes on the Obama Administration. Among their last-minute adoptions are new mandatory rules for permit-required confined spaces (PRCS) on construction sites. And Cal/OSHA was only too eager to assist by swallowing them whole with little thought to how they would work in conjunction with the pre-existing PRCS rules found in the General Industry Safety Orders (GISO), the Telecommunication Orders, and the Electrical Orders.

The new construction rules are complex and have been in effect since December 30, 2015, They almost wholly address confined spaces on multi-employer work sites. Funny thing is, the GISO confined space regulations also proscribe procedures to be followed on multi-employer work sites.

The Standards Board acknowledges the need for clarification and integration and may get around to talking about that this summer. In the meantime Labor Code section 6317 compels employers to follow all of the regulations, with little guidance from any source as to which should take precedence. And they are not getting any help from Cal/OSHA, which seems to have joined the herd of deer in the headlights. Nonetheless, you can bet that if something goes wrong, Cal/OSHA will cite the employer under one or more of these regulatory schemes.

The complexity of this new regulation also highlights the unintended consequences of writing regulations as specification standards, not performance standards, thus exalting rigid perfection over flexibility and common sense. We ask you to read the new regulations as if you are considering starting a new construction company with maybe three core employees. Would this regulation encourage you to become an entrepreneur, providing jobs to the unemployed? We doubt it.

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