NASSCO Obtains Favorable OSHA Ruling For Confined Space

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | November 2008 Vol. 63 No. 11

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has given verbal assurance to NASSCO that it will continue to consider the sewer rehabilitation work typically performed by its members as "maintenance" rather than "construction" as had been proposed in a rule change to OSHA's confined space standard, reports Irv Gemora, executive director of NASSCO.

NASSCO opposed inclusion of rehabilitation in the "construction" category because it would substantially increase the costs to companies engaged in rehabilitation projects.

OSHA's verbal assurance was given at a public hearing Sept. 22-23, at OSHA headquarters in Washington, DC, Germora informed NASSCO members soon after the hearing.

"Mission accomplished," said Gemora, who with his staff and NASSCO members has worked for months gathering data to support information to oppose the proposed rule change – Confined Spaces in Construction; Proposed Rule 72:67351 67425 – which was published in the Federal Register in November 2007.

Shortly before expiration of the three month period for comment, NASSCO requested that OSHA schedule a public hearing on the proposal.

Critical step

Granting the hearing was an important step in NASSCO's opposition to the proposed rule change. At the time of the request, an OSHA spokesman said the agency did not normally conduct hearings on rule proposals.

"Prior to the hearings," said Gemora, "NASSCO members were polled to learn more about their confined spaces involvement and safety records in order to present an honest and compelling view of the infrastructure rehabilitation industry as we know it from experience. After we completed our homework, we retained the services of a Washington law firm with a proven record of providing expert counsel in OSHA matters."

Kathy Romans, chairperson of NASSCO'S health and safety committee, presented the association's case at the OSHA hearing in September.

"As a result of our commitment and attention to this matter, OSHA assured us it will continue to consider rehabilitation work as maintenance," said Gemora. "Our next goal is to have new rules include a preamble that clearly states that as OSHA policy and practice."