OSHA Focus

Cell Tower Fatalities Spur Action

Federal safety authorities are working to address the sharp rise in fatalities in the communication tower industry.
By: | March 31, 2014 • 2 min read

“In recent months, the communication tower industry has experienced an alarming increase in worker deaths,” begins a letter to employers in the communication tower industry. “It is imperative that the cell tower industry take steps immediately to address this pressing issue: no worker should risk death for a paycheck.”

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The letter from Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels cites the recent “acceleration in communication tower work” as the reason for the deaths of 13 workers last year and four so far this year. “Every single one of these tragedies was preventable,” the letter says.

OSHA has developed a webpage as part of a campaign to prevent injuries and deaths among communication tower workers.

The agency has also partnered with the National Association of Tower Erectors and other industry stakeholders to urge compliance and adherence with safety standards and “common sense practices.”

Workers erecting or doing maintenance on communication towers regularly climb them, “using fixed ladders, support structures of step bolts, from 100 feet to heights in excess of 1,000 or 2,000 feet,” OSHA explained. “Employees climb towers throughout the year, including during inclement weather conditions.”

Many of the recent deaths have occurred from falls in which there was inadequate fall protection or workers were not using it properly. OSHA says it is concerned, especially since much of the work is done by employees of subcontractors.

Workers also face risks from falling objects, the structural collapse of towers, and equipment failures. To protect employees, OSHA advises employers take the following steps:

Prior to their initial assignments, make sure newly hired workers are adequately trained and monitored to ensure that safe work practices are learned and followed.

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Provide employees with appropriate fall protection, train them to use this fall protection properly, and consistently supervise and enforce the use of fall protection. “Fall hazards are obvious and well known, and OSHA will consider issuing willful citations, in appropriate cases, for a failure to provide and use fall protection,” the agency said. “During inspections, OSHA will be paying particular attention to contract oversight issues and will obtain contracts in order to identify not only the company performing work on the tower, but the tower owner, carrier, and other responsible parties in the contracting chain.”

When selecting contractors, include safety criteria and close oversight of subcontracting, if allowed at all. “Simple ‘check the box’ contract language may not provide enough information to evaluate a contractor’s ability to perform the work safely.”

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]