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

“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]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]