OSHA Requirements for Controlled Access Zones

OSHA fall protection requirements in general construction and building maintenance are minimizing liability without jepordizing work performance.

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Published on: May 5, 2014

Controlled access zones are designed to provide added safety for workers in elevated areas of the worksite. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to maintain fall protection safety measures to protect employees in all areas where falls of six feet or more are possible. In areas where guardrails and fall arrest equipment cannot be practically used, controlled access zones can be used to allow essential workers to perform their duties while preventing other staff members from entering these hazardous areas.

Part of a Comprehensive Fall Protection Program

OSHA fall protection regulations require the use of appropriate fall protection systems in all areas where falls of more than six feet or falls into dangerous equipment are possible. Some of the available fall protection devices and systems include the following:

  • Guardrails for ladders, platforms and roof edges
  • Safety nets
  • Personal fall arrest systems to include harnesses and lifelines attached to secure overhead anchorages
  • Positioning systems to reduce the risk of falls
  • Controlled access zone barriers and markings to identify high-risk working areas

Companies must comply with OSHA fall protection inspection requirements prior to each use to ensure optimal worker safety. Additionally, annual fall protection certification may be required for the equipment in use in certain working environments.

Hazardous Areas

According to OSHA regulations, fall protection measures must be instituted in the following work areas:

  • Ramps and walkways
  • Areas surrounding holes
  • Unprotected edges and sides
  • Wall openings
  • Excavation sites
  • Areas positioned over dangerous equipment
  • Any areas where falls of six feet or more are possible

Controlled access zones are primarily used in areas where masonry work or other maintenance must be performed and in which regular fall protection equipment cannot practically and effectively be used.

Identifying Controlled Access Zones

Areas designated as controlled access zones must be clearly and visibly marked to alert workers of the increased risks present in these areas. Wire, tape or rope control lines may be used to cordon off the hazardous area in accordance with OSHA regulations:

  • The control lines must be flagged at intervals of not more than six feet with highly visible materials.
  • They must usually be positioned at between 39 inches and 45 inches above the walking surface. For areas where overhand bricklaying activities are being performed, heights of 50 inches above the walkway are permissible.
  • Control lines must be connected on both sides to a wall or secure guardrail system and must run parallel along the entire length of the leading edge.
  • They must be strong enough to withstand force or impact of at least 200 pounds.

Adherence to these regulations will ensure greater protection for workers in areas deemed hazardous due to high elevation or the potential for serious falls.

Masonry and Bricklaying

Overhand bricklaying activities are subject to specific OSHA regulations. The control lines delineating the controlled access zone for these tasks must be positioned at between 10 feet and 15 feet from the unprotected edge. Control lines must create a perimeter completely enclosing the work area that constitutes the controlled access zone, and employees not actively engaged in masonry, overhand bricklaying or other related activities may not be allowed inside the controlled access zone perimeter.


Proper training and monitoring is required to ensure that workers are protected against falls in controlled access zones and other areas of the workplace. Maintaining safe working practices is of critical importance in these relatively unprotected areas. As a result, employees should undergo thorough training that includes the proper use of fall protection equipment, the safest procedures for working in the controlled access zone and the identification of hazards in the workplace environment.

Controlled access zones can provide a measure of protection in hard-to-reach areas of building exteriors. By incorporating OSHA fall protection requirements into everyday activities, building maintenance firms and management companies can ensure greater safety for their valued workers.

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