Cell Tower Falls Prompt OSHA Action

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is launching an initiative to reduce deaths and injuries involving workers at cellphone towers.

Thirteen workers were killed in telecommunications tower accidents in 2013, and four fatalities have been reported since the beginning of 2014.  On-the-job falls are the leading cause of death in tower accidents.

OSHA sent a letter to telecommunications tower employers after a February 1 accident that killed two telecommunications workers and a firefighter in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The three died when a 300-foot tower collapsed.

The OSHA letter takes a stern tone and advises employers that vigilance against falling accidents is imperative, especially when subcontractors take on cell tower construction, repair work, and improvement projects.

More people were killed in cell tower accidents in 2013 than in 2011 and 2012 combined. One reason for the uptick is that the mobile communications industry is making significant network upgrades, enhancing existing cellphone tower infrastructure, and building new facilities. With the pace of mobile technology ever accelerating, OSHA is struggling to hold wireless companies accountable for the safety of cell tower construction and repair crews.

An opinion piece on Yahoo! Voices by Charlotte Raynor puts the problem into perspective. “The enormous majority of the United States cell tower climbers are employed by low regulated, small mom and pop operations subcontracted by large wireless companies,” she writes. “In spite of various new safety enhancements, the pace of deadly accidents among these approximately 9,800 workers is higher than coal miners, loggers or offshore fishermen.” She concludes that tower climbers who build, maintain and repair wireless towers are in the most dangerous career in America.

Frontline and ProPublica investigated the dangers of cellphone tower work and painted a disturbing picture of an industry plagued by fatal falls, workplace accidents, and minimal safety oversight.

A veteran of the tower climbing trade stated flatly: “People don’t understand what the danger is to tower climbing. One person drops a wrench and it’ll kill somebody.”

The public TV special also revealed that nearly 100 workers have died on cell, radio, and TV towers in the U.S. in the past decade.

In its forceful statement to cell tower employers, OSHA sums up the federal government’s position on tower climbing accidents: “It is imperative that the cell tower industry take steps immediately to address this pressing issue: No worker should risk death for a paycheck.”

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