Three workers – 23-year-old Brachton Barber of Longwood, Fla., 31-year-old Marcus Goffena of Sydney, Ohio and 35-year-old Benito Rodriguez of Tampa, Fla. – were attempting to install a new TV antenna for Miami Fox affiliate WSVN Channel 7 when witnesses said they heard what sounded like an explosion and saw flying debris when a crane carrying the three workers collapsed.
Eric Garner, a nearby resident, told CBS station WFOR-TV that he called 911 when he realized what had happened. “You know, that's all about I can do, and I just prayed for the guys, you know what I mean, the families,” he said.
The men, who were pronounced dead on the scene, worked for Tower King II, which had been hired to replace equipment at the top of a television tower in Miami Springs, a suburb of Miami. Barber reportedly was the son of Kevin Barber, president of Tower King II, which is based in Cedar Hill, Texas.
“We are saddened by this tragic event,” said WSVN-TV owner and president Edmund Ansin in a statement. “Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of the three men who died. They worked for a company hired by Channel 7 to perform work on the tower that was required by the [Federal Communications Commission].”
Tower King II was issued a willful citation by OSHA in February 2013 for violations of 29 CFR1926.105 – Safety Nets. The initial penalty was $15,400. The company entered into a settlement agreement with OSHA dated March 4, 2013 that knocked the citation down to “serious” and the fine to $5,000.
The company also was cited for a violation of the Powered Industrial Truck Standard in 2008 and reached a formal settlement with OSHA and paid a $250 fine, and was cited again in 2011 for a serious violation and paid a fine of $150.
A search of OSHA’s databases revealed another fatality, this one in 1984, before Barber became owner. According to OSHA’s accident report, “The basic structure of the tower had been completed. The ironworkers were installing hardware at the time of the accident. Elevator cables (wire rope) had been installed but not yet attached. The cables hung over sheaves at the top of the tower and were hanging loose inside the tower. Employee #1 grabbed onto the cables, which started running over the sheaves. Since the cables were not attached to anything, his weight over-balanced one side of the cable run, and the employee fell approximately 1,500 feet. The cable fell on top of him. His body was dismembered and lacerated extensively.”
Tower King was cited for one serious violation and contested the case, finally paying a fine of $385 following a decision by an administrative law judge .
Advocacy Groups Call for More Enforcement
Local and national safety advocacy groups are claiming that the deaths of the three workers shows the need for rigorous enforcement of safety laws and regulations, especially in the communications tower industry. The groups claim that since 2003, more than 130 workers have lost their lives working on communication towers.
“Our prayers are with the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy,” said Jeanette Smith, executive director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, a founding member of the South Florida Council on Occupational Safety and Health (South Florida COSH). “We will remember Brachton Barber, Benito Rodriguez and Marcus Goffena and honor their lives by insisting on the highest safety standards for all workers.”
Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH), said the recent fatalities in Miami “are the most recent needless deaths in an industry where reckless actions by employers have cost the lives of scores of workers. We need answers and a full investigation, including an analysis of steps the employer took – or failed to take – to provide a fall protection system and to assess the structural integrity of the tower and related equipment.”
Since 2003, 132 workers have fallen to their deaths while working on communication towers, according to WirelessEstimator.com, an industry website.
In 2014, following what it called an “alarming increase in worker deaths” due to falls from communication towers, OSHA sent a memorandum to employers, stating, “every single one of these tragedies was preventable.” The agency reminded employers of their responsibility under federal safety laws to provide proper training and fall protection systems to anyone working on communications towers.
In 2012, PBS Frontline and ProPublica cooperated on an investigation featuring the high incidence of fatalities on communication towers. Investigators found that major cell phone companies, installing new towers to meet expanding demand for cell service, used “a complex web of subcontracting” to “avoid scrutiny” of deadly, preventable events that have cost workers their lives.