Posted by Heidi Schwartz
On January 31, 2014, a maintenance worker in Cameron County, TX fell to his death from a cell tower. The next day, a cell phone tower collapsed in Clarksburg, WV. Minutes later, a second tower at the same Clarksburg site also fell. The collapse of these two towers resulted in the deaths of two workers and a firefighter responding to the scene and sent two other employees to the hospital with serious injuries.
As a result, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is collaborating with the National Association of Tower Erectors and other industry stakeholders to ensure that every communication tower employer understands his or her responsibility to protect workers performing this high-hazard work.
“Tower worker deaths cannot be the price we pay for increased wireless communication,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “Employers and cell tower owners and operators must do everything possible to stop these senseless, preventable tragedies.”
OSHA is concerned about the alarming increase in preventable injuries and fatalities at communication tower worksites. In 2013, 13 fatalities occurred in this industry, more than in the previous two years combined. This disturbing trend appears to be continuing, with the four worker deaths occurring in the first five weeks of 2014.
In an effort to prevent these tragic incidents, OSHA is increasing its focus on tower safety. The agency has sent a letter to communication tower employers urging compliance and strict adherence to safety standards and common sense practices. OSHA has also created a new Web page targeting the issues surrounding communication tower work.
Of the 13 communication tower-related fatalities that occurred in 2013, the majority were a result of falls. OSHA requires employers to provide adequate fall protection equipment, train employees how to use the safety equipment, and ensure that they use it properly and consistently. In the past few months, tower workers have also been injured or killed by falling objects, the structural collapse of towers, and equipment failures. For example, OSHA issued citations in December 2013 to Custom Tower LLC of Scott, LA, for one willful violation following the death of a worker who fell approximately 125′.
OSHA is committed to working with the communications industry to prevent these injuries and fatalities, and it will continue outreach and enforcement efforts to make sure that communication tower workers are adequately protected. Small- and medium-sized employers can access OSHA on-site consultation programs for free assistance in providing safe workplaces.