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OSHA extension on enclosed-space compliance

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently extended the implementation of new rules designed to increase safety among construction workers who are routinely required to enter confined spaces as part of their tasks. However, the extension is only applicable to employers in residential, not commercial, construction. In addition, the OSHA regulations on how employer compliance will be evaluated during the extended enforcement term have caused many Texas workers to express concerns about how well the new regulations protect them.

Under the new rules, workers in construction are given many of the same protections and training requirements as those working in other industries, with construction-specific phrasing. Commercial construction employers and workers are already subject to these rules, and therefore the extension does not apply to them. This places residential construction workers in a potentially dangerous situation because of how OSHA intends to enforce and cite non-complying businesses.

An OSHA memorandum regarding the extension says that until early January, companies will not be cited by health and safety inspectors assuming they demonstrate "good-faith" efforts to comply with the new regulations. To show "good faith" by OSHA standards, the employer must demonstrate compliance training or plans to implement it, keep on hand or have ordered proper safety equipment and ongoing employee education on the dangers of enclosed-space work as well as reasonable efforts to alleviate these hazards.

When an enclosed-space work accident results in significant harm to a worker, an attorney may begin by reviewing the employer's training protocols and overall compliance with applicable regulations. The attorney might assist the injured worker in filing a claim for benefits under the employer's workers' compensation insurance coverage.

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