Pointing to “an alarming increase in worker deaths,” OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels sent a letter to employers in the communication tower industry urging them to take steps “to prevent these needless injuries and deaths before anyone else is hurt.”
In 2013, there were 13 fatalities at communication tower worksites, surpassing the body count from the previous two years combined. So far this year, there have been four worker deaths, including a fatal fall from a cell tower in Texas and three deaths stemming from the collapse of two cell towers at the same worksite in Clarksburg, W.Va.
“Every single one of these tragedies was preventable,” Michaels says in the letter. “OSHA is aware that there has been acceleration in communication tower work during the past year due to cellular infrastructure upgrades, and the agency is concerned about the possibility of future incidents, especially when the hazardous work is done by employees of subcontractors. It is imperative that the cell tower industry take steps immediately to address this pressing issue. No worker should risk death for a paycheck.”
Falls Are a Problem
Of the 13 fatalities that occurred at communication tower worksites last year, most resulted from falls, according to OSHA. In his letter, Michaels reminds employers that they must provide adequate fall protection equipment, train employees how to use the safety equipment and ensure that they use it properly and consistently.
“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,” Michaels asserts in the letter.
Michaels also warns tower employers that OSHA inspectors will take a close look at contractor oversight, “and will obtain contracts in order to identify not only the company performing work on the tower, but [also] 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,” Michaels says. “Simple ‘check-the-box’ contract language may not provide enough information to evaluate a contractor's ability to perform the work safely.”
The letter comes on the heels of a November 2013 memo to OSHA's compliance officers and regional administrators mandating increased attention and data collection on the industry.
OSHA has created a new web page focusing on safety issues at communication tower worksites. The agency also says it is 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.”
"Tower worker deaths cannot be the price we pay for increased wireless communication," Michaels says in a news release. "Employers and cell tower owners and operators must do everything possible to stop these senseless, preventable tragedies."