The recent boom in cellular phone infrastructure upgrades may be good news for consumers, but increased speed and better reception have come at an extremely high price. According to recent OSHA statistics, communication tower industry workers are dying in record numbers. In 2013, more communication towers were killed than in 2011 and 2012 combined and we have already seen 4 deaths since the beginning of 2014. These statistics point to a sobering reality: communications tower employees have a risk of fatal injury that is 25-30 times higher than the risk for an average American worker. Sadly, many of the tragic deaths in this industry are avoidable.
According to OSHA, the majority of tower deaths result from a lack of fall protection. Although structural collapse of towers and falling objects have been cited as the cause of death in some of these accidents, OSHA officials point to a lack of fall protection systems and improper training as the primary contributors to the rising death toll among tower workers.
In February, OSHA sent an open letter reminding communication industry employers of their obligation to mitigate the fall hazards contributing to workplace injuries and deaths. In response to the record number of accidents, OSHA is stepping up enforcement efforts. To this end, all employers should be mindful of the following:
- Employers shall adequately train and monitor newly hired employees to ensure that safe work practices are learned and followed.
- Per terms of the OSH Act, communication tower employees must be provided appropriate fall protection and trained on the equipment’s safe use. The use of fall protection must be consistently supervised and enforced by the employer. Fall hazards in this industry are obvious and well known, and OSHA may issue willful citations, in appropriate cases, for a failure to provide and use fall protection.
- During inspections, OSHA will pay 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.
- Contractor selection should 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.
Employers should also visit OSHA’s communications tower safety web page. This resource contains all of OSHA’s information on tower worker safety, relevant standards, and a detailed list of violations and issued penalties.
Earlier in this post, we mentioned that most of these recent fatalities could have been avoided. To drive this point home, consider this fact: in many of these instances, OSHA inspectors found that victims were wearing harnesses that were not tied off. This is why DFP’s custom engineered, vertical lifeline and rigid track systems provide for 100% tie off during ascent and egress. The safety of these systems can be further enhanced with the use of climb assist technology.
At Diversified Safety, we understand the fall hazards associated with this type of work and we routinely partner with companies in the communication tower industry. To learn more about our turnkey approach to fall protection, or to discuss fall protection requirements for a cell phone, radio, or TV antenna installation, visit us online at www.fallprotect.com or contact Diversified Fall Protection for more information.