OSHA is investigating a communications tower collapse in Blaine, Kan., that claimed the lives of Seth Garner of St. Peters, Mo., and Martin Powers of St. Charles, Mo. The men died when the communication tower they were working on collapsed. Powers was pronounced dead at the scene and Garner died at a local hospital.
Garner and Powers worked for Wireless Horizon of St. Louis, which was a subcontractor working for the Union Pacific Railroad. They were working at 250-feet to remove equipment from a telecommunication tower, which was being dismantled. When that tower collapsed, it took down the new tower that was next to it.
According to Pottawatomie County Sheriff Greg Riat, the men were wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, such as fall protection harnesses. OSHA is investigating the accident.
Michael Moon, the acting area director for OSHA, said there were 13 tower-related fatalities in Kansas last year and four – not including these two deaths – this year.
“They are in a very high risk job. In 2013, we were more than double in the number of fatalities for tower related incidents than we were in 2011 and 2012 combined,” Moon told local television station WIBW.
OSHA has become alarmed by the number of fatalities among tower workers, collaborating with the National Association of Tower Erectors and other industry stakeholders to ensure that every communication tower employer understands their responsibility to protect workers performing this high-hazard work.
Four communication tower-related deaths occurred in the first five weeks of 2014: A maintenance worker fell to his death Jan. 31 from a cell tower in Cameron County, Texas. The next day, a cell phone tower collapsed in Clarksburg, W.Va. 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.
"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."
In a letter to employers in the communication tower industry that referred to 13 deaths attributed to tower work in 2013 and the four deaths at the start of the year, Michaels noted, “Every single one of these tragedies was preventable.”
And, he added, “OSHA has found that a high proportion of these incidents occurred because of a lack of fall protection: either employers are not providing appropriate fall protection to employees, or they are not ensuring that their employees use fall protection properly. As a result, communication tower climbers are falling to their deaths.”
Michaels also noted that in addition to falls, workers face other hazards in the field. “In the past few months, tower workers have been injured and killed by falling objects, equipment failure, and the structural collapse of towers,” he wrote. “While these incidents are not as frequent as falls, they are very real hazards to protect against.”