Workers' Comp Retro Program

Published on Sep 12, 2018

Confined spaces: Update to safety rules

Contact: Retro team

Earlier this year the Department of Labor & Industries issued an update to confined spaces safety standards. This rulemaking was undertaken by the department because of updates by Federal OSHA to their rules in 2015; L&I is required to have safety rules that are at least as effective as their national counterpart.

Review your confined space program

We recommend that all members take time to review their confined space program this year to ensure their program is following the new rules. You can review the updated rule here. The rule includes appendixes with a helpful Q&A section, examples, and other tools. To help with your review, here is a list of the major updates to the confined space rule below.

Significant updates to confined space safety rules:
Note: this list is not exhaustive, rather it highlights the most significant and impactful changes in the latest rules revision

  • Nonpermit-confined spaces have been removed from the safety rules. L&I now addresses these spaces under “alternative methods” in WAC 296-809-600. (additional information below)
  • WAC 296-809-20002: An explicit 2-step process for identifying permit-required confined space(s) (PRCS) is established. Step one is identifying all confined spaces that meet the statutory definition, and step two is evaluating those spaces for actual and potential physical and atmospheric hazards. Additional details on these steps are found in the WAC.
  • Trainers and supervisors must be “qualified and trained”.
  • Your confined space program now must have a program administrator who oversees the policy, resultant procedures, and practiced implementation.
  • Per WAC 296-809-30002 there are required segments of a written PRCS program. These include:
    • Documented entry procedures
    • Designation of employees that have active roles, including attendants, competent persons, entrants, entry supervisors, rescuers, program administrators, and testers/monitors. All these parties are considered affected employees for confined spaces.
    • What designated employees’ duties are
  • The updated rule places greater emphasis on use of permits to learn and train (WAC 296-809-50006).
  • Entry permits showing actual exposure to hazardous atmospheres must be kept and maintained as employee exposure records per WAC 296-802 and treated as other exposure/medical records. This will increase the retention schedule of these documents.
  • Rescue services now must let you know when they are not available. This means you cannot plan to/rely on calling 911 “ without contacting them and completing an evaluation in advance to ensure they meet the criteria of this standard”. Planned rescue teams must also make your entry teams aware when they are unavailable for rescue services. This means you will need to plan and communicate with emergency services if you plan on using them as your identified rescue teams.
  • It is the duty of the entry supervisors to ensure that rescue services are available at the time entry begins. If rescue services become unavailable, the supervisor must immediately cancel the permit and entrants must exit the PRCS.
  • Your organization may use alternative methods of entry to PRCS and not use permits when inspection and monitoring data support that:
    • You have eliminated all hazards, or
    • Physical hazards have been eliminated and forced air ventilation controls the actual or potential hazardous atmosphere in the space.
  • For PRCS entries under alternative methods, you must have documentation that covers information set forward under WAC 296-809-60002(2). Appendix J offers an example form for use when alternative methods entry procedures are utilized.


If you have any questions or need assistance with your program, please contact the Retro team.

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