In May 2012, we posted about the excellent Frontline - Pro Publica documentary report on on cell tower worker deaths: The high price for fast phones: Cell tower deaths. Since that time, the issue has gotten worse, not better. In 2013, there were 13 cell tower-related fatalities. In the first two months of 2014, there have already been 4 fatalities related to cell towers.
In response to these deaths, 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 their responsibility to protect workers performing this high-hazard work. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels has issued a warning letter to Communication Tower Industry Employers reiterating these responsibilities.
In addition, OSHA has launched resources to focus on protecting cell tower employees in its No More Falling Workers initiative. It has created a new Web page - Communication Towers - targeting the issues surrounding communication tower work.
Education is great in as far as it goes, which isn't all that far. The problems that plague the industry and the related deaths revolve around the unrelenting deadlines to complete towers to meet demand and the complex network of contractors and subcontractors that allow the tower owner to shrug off responsibility for any deaths.
Travis Crum of the Charleson Gazette echoes the problems found in the Frontline-Pro Publica report in his reporting about three West Virgina tower-related fatalities earlier this month: Company that owns collapsed Clarksburg cell towers had fatalities before
"These incidents seem likely to continue as cell companies push contractors and their employees to meet rising demand for 4G and 4GLTE data networks, said Randy Gray, a former OSHA inspector from Kentucky.""Gray said cellphone companies are racing to replace older 3G networks with 4G, or fourth-generation, networks. This rapid expansion places cell tower climbers at risk, Gray said, who now does private consulting on accidents and fatalities at cell tower sites."
He also explains why it's so difficult to hold the cell tower owners/networks responsible:
To make matters worse, Gray said, it's difficult for OSHA to hold companies such as SBA responsible, because there's a web of contractors and sub-contractors who often shield them from scrutiny.
OSHA investigators must prove several elements before citing a company, Gray said, one of them being knowledge of potential hazards.
"With the owner of the cell tower not being present at the time of the fatality, it's hard to prove they had knowledge about what the employees were signing off on," he said. "So these companies start layering themselves between the people who work on the ground, and this layering, in my opinion, protects them from possibly being cited by OSHA or being involved in OSHA inspections."
So while it's great that OSHA is warning employers and putting an emphasis on tower worker safety, it will serious accountability to drive the change.
Wireless Estimator tracks U.S. tower-related fatalities