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Letter # 20090428-9029

Re: Whether an employer can use a controlled access zone during curtain wall installation.

Question: Does 1926.502(g) permit employees installing a curtain wall to work, without fall protection, within a controlled access zone?


No. In general, the duty to provide fall protection is contained in 29 CFR 1926.501 of Subpart M; however, §1926.500(a)(2)(iii) provides that fall protection requirements for employees performing steel erection work are contained instead in Subpart R.  Title 29 CFR 1926.750(b)(1) states that steel erection activities include "installing ... curtain walls."  Therefore, Subpart R's fall protection requirements in §1926.760 apply here.1  In particular, paragraph 1926.760(a)(1) provides:


Except as provided by paragraph (a)(3) of this section, each employee engaged in a steel erection activity who is on a walking/working surface with an unprotected side or edge more than 15 feet (4.6 m) above a lower level shall be protected from fall hazards by guardrail systems, safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems, positioning device systems or fall restraint systems.

Paragraph 1926.760(a)(3) excepts "connectors and employees working in controlled decking zones" from paragraph 1926.760(a)(1)'s general fall protection requirement.  Neither exception applies to the work your employees perform.

A "connector" is defined in §1926.751 as:

[A]n employee who, working with hoisting equipment, is placing and connecting structural members and/or components.

The employees you ask about are not connectors because they are installing a curtain wall, not connecting structural members and/or components.

Employees may work in a controlled decking zone only where "metal decking is initially being installed ...."2  "Metal decking" is defined in §1926.751 as:

[A] commercially manufactured, structural grade, cold rolled metal panel formed into a series of parallel ribs; for this subpart, this includes metal floor and roof decks, standing seam metal roofs, other metal roof systems and other products such as bar ratings, checker plate, expanded metal panels, and similar products.  After installation and proper fastening, these decking materials serve a combination of functions including, but not limited to: a structural element designed in combination with the structure to resist, distribute and transfer loads, stiffen the structure and provide a diaphragm action; a walking/working surface; a form for concrete slabs; a support for roofing systems; and a finished floor or roof. (emphasis added)

Employees installing curtain wall only are not eligible to work in a Controlled Decking Zone because they are not installing metal decking.  The curtain wall does not serve either an express function contained within the definition of "metal decking" or a function similar to those contained within the definition.

Therefore, pursuant to paragraph 1926.760(a)(1), you must provide guardrail systems, safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems, positioning device systems or fall restraint systems for all of your employees installing curtain wall on an unprotected side or edge more than 15 feet from a lower level.


Richard E. Fairfax, Acting Director
Directorate of Construction

1 Your question mistakenly assumes that the duty to provide fall protection for employees engaged in curtain wall installation is triggered by 1926.501, which in turn triggers the Controlled Access Zone requirements in 1926.502(g). [back to text]

2 See 29 CFR 1926.760(c)[back to text]