Jobsite Safety 101: OSHA’s Standards For Working In Tight & Confined Spaces

January 19, 2015 at 4:12 am  •  Posted in Construction  •  2 Comments

As they say, “Safety is the cheapest and most effective insurance policy.” Because I kinda like you—and want you to stick around—I’ll flog the safety topic once more.

This time, we’ll talk about staying safe when working in confined spaces. If you’re claustrophobic, avert your eyes.

Article Contents

As a wrangler of all things electrical, being sandwiched between wires and a toolbox isn’t as cramped as it gets. And data cable installers face their fair share of hazards too. Sometimes you need to jam yourself into pretty confined and narrow spaces. It’s not always ideal—or fun—but someone’s gotta get the job done. Here are a few tips to stay safe, and alive, along the way.

Confined Spaces Defined

You know that things get perilous in confined spaces, especially ones that require a permit before work starts. But are the up-and-comers on your team as knowledgeable as you are? Here’s a refresher, just in case:

How do we define “confined” in a work context? According to this article from EC&M, a confined space is any space large enough to squeeze into and perform work, and:

  • With limited or narrow entries and exits
  • Not designed for continuous occupancy
  • One where you might be exposed to hazards upon entry

OSHA describes a “permit-required confined space” (PRCS) as one that:

  • Has or could contain a hazardous atmosphere that could compromise air or oxygen quality. Think chemical exposure, dust, and biological hazards.
  • Contains a material that could “engulf” the entrant.
  • Consists of walls or floors that slope inwards or down. Basically, anything that could taper into a smaller area and trap an unsuspecting worker.
  • Challenges safety standards in some other way, such as exposed wires, heat stress, or unguarded machinery

Dodging Hazards, Like A Boss

General Construction

Most of us are well-versed on handling hazards in confined spaces. But a refresher never hurts, especially for newbies. First, determine if you’re working in a plain-old confined space or a permit-required confined space (PRCS). If it’s the latter, get your hands on a permit, or have your employer do that. For PRCS spaces, OSHA has detailed requirements that must be adhered to before entry. Special training is often required, and access is closely monitored.

Tips for working safely in a confined space:

  • Get a permit, if you need it (see above)
  • If you sub-contract someone to do the work, ask for their training records. Is their knowledge up to snuff? Can they handle the job safely?
  • Decide who can enter the confined space. If you don’t want just anyone on your team entering the space, lock it and put a sign on it. And don’t forget to tell your crew.
  • Sit down with team members and brainstorm the hazards that exist, then develop a safety plan.
  • Document the hazards present, and how to control them. Then get all the protective equipment you’ll need.
  • Each worker must post the completed permit outside the PRCS space for everyone to clearly read.

If you’d like a few more tips on safety and OSHA requirements for working in confined spaces, read this EC&M article.

Data Cable Installers, Listen Up

For those of you just getting started as a data comm installer—or looking to educate new team members—note that OSHA has special standards for working in confined telecommunication spaces, including:

  • Protection from falling, or from falling objects
  • Availability of first aid assistance when safety hazards are present
  • Testing the atmosphere of manholes and unvented vaults prior to entry, including proper ventilation where atmospheric hazards are present

Over To You

Have you worked in a confined space? How did you stay safe? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below, or connecting with us on Twitter @GraybarESP.

Todd Reed, National Market ManagerAbout The Author
Todd Reed, National Market Manager

Husband to a professionally licensed architectural engineer and lighting designer (a.k.a. Lisa J. Reed) and son-in-law to an electrician, Todd knows the importance of efficiency, safety, and productivity for electrical contractors. Todd is a seasoned professional, with 5 years’ experience within a family-owned distribution business and 10 years as a Graybar employee. As National Market Manager at Graybar, Todd’s goal is to find the best products and solutions to help contractors work more efficiently, stay safe on the job, and win more productive and profitable business.

Sources & Credits
EC&M: Confined Spaces Simplified
OSHA: Confined Spaces
Cabling Installing & Maintenance: OSHA regulation specifically covers telecommunications spaces


  1. Kyle Jacobs / April 8, 2015 at 3:39 pm / Reply

    Hello Todd,
    Besides, are there any other PPE product buying guilds, catalogs/resources that Graybar has for fall protection, arc flash , eye, ear, face, hand, etc., also gas detection meters ( such as Industrial Scientific Model No. VK-K1232111111 Ventis MX4 Multi-Gas Monitor )..???
    Best regards,
    Kyle Jacobs
    Purchasing Manager
    Edward G. Sawyer Company, Inc. — LCN Division
    260 Libbey Parkway
    Weymouth, MA 02189
    781.927.1119 MOBILE 617-839-3546

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