The growing demand for wireless and broadcast communications over the past three decades has spurred a dramatic increase in communication tower construction and maintenance – one that exposes workers to specific hazards.
In order to erect or maintain communication towers, employees regularly climb towers, using fixed ladders, support structures or step bolts, from 100 feet to heights in excess of 1000 or 2000 feet. They must do this throughout the year, including during inclement weather conditions.
OSHA recorded a total number of 13 communication tower-related fatalities in 2013, 12 in 2014, 3 in 2015 and 6 in 2016.
Some of the more frequently encountered hazards include:
- Falls from great heights
- Electrical hazards
- Hazards associated with hoisting personnel and equipment with base-mounted drum hoists
- Inclement weather
- Falling object hazards
- Equipment failure
- Structural collapse of towers
Falls are a major fatality cause
Here are some of the fatal incidents which have occurred in the industry over the past decade:
- Investigation of the April 19, 2018, Communication Tower Collapse in Fordland, Missouri. (PDF) (October, 2018)
- Investigation of the March 25, 2014 Failure of Gin Pole Rigging, and Collapse of Cellular Towers at Blaine, KS (PDF). (August 2014).
- Investigation of the February 1, 2014 Collapse of a Telecommunication Tower at the Summit Park Community in Clarksburg, WV (PDF). (July 2014).
- Investigation of the May 28, 2013 failure of gin pole rigging at a cell tower in Georgetown, MS (PDF). (October 2013).
- Cell Tower Technician Dies after Antenna Array Falls and Decapitates Him (PDF). Kentucky Incident Number: 14KY032, (August 17, 2015)
- November 22, 2013, Optica Network Technologies, Wichita, Kansas. A 25-year-old worker performing cell tower maintenance was killed when he fell 50 feet.
- August 17, 2013, Custom Tower, LLC, Louise, Mississippi. A worker installing microwave dishes on a cell tower was killed when he fell 125 feet. The worker, who was not using a double lanyard, fell after disconnecting his positioning lanyard to reposition himself.
- August 12, 2013, Transmit PM LLC, Coats, NC. A worker performing installation services for Sprint under the direction of Alcatel-Lucent died from a fall.
- July 8, 2013, Monarch Towers, Mountrail County, ND. Two workers were adding structural supports to a 300 foot tower. One worker fell and struck the other, causing them both to die from a 250 foot fall.
- May 28, 2013, Byrd Telecom, Georgetown, MS. Workers were raising a new antenna to the top of a tower to make the tower taller. While installing a hoisting device to raise the boom a cable broke, causing two men to fall to their deaths.
- April 5, 2013, S25 Towerserv, LLC, Franklin, PA. Two employees were hoisting new equipment on a tower, one employee was at approximately 190 feet, the other at 140 feet. The equipment being hoisted came loose striking the lower employee causing him to fall.
- March 19, 2013, Eduardo Corona, Laredo, TX. While installing the last 10-foot section of a 90 foot tower, the bottom section collapsed, causing one employee to fall to the ground and die.
- January 4, 2013, Ws Consulting & Construction, Mount Vernon, Washington. Employee fell 80 feet and died, had fall protection gear on, but the fall protection anchorage point failed.
- June 27, 2012, Midwest Steeplejacks, Inc., Lisbon, ND. Employee was on a 300-foot telecommunication tower wearing an ExoFit XP Tower Climbing Harness equipped with a positioning device and twin lanyards, using only one tie-off point. Employee unhooked his positioning device to reposition himself, and fell approximately 153 feet and died.
- August 11, 2011, Hayden Tower Service, Inc., Brookfield, MO. A worker dismantling a cellular tower fell 80 feet and later died in the hospital.
- August 3, 2011, Sink Tower Erection Co., Hollister, NC. A worker was making modifications to 300 foot cellular tower when he fell 50 feet and was killed.
- October 12. 2011, Ultimate Tower Service, Inc., Newton, MA. An employee was killed from fall while installing a new ladder on a 1000 foot tower.
- Construction Incidents Investigation Engineering Reports
- Tower Technician Killed When Guyed Tower Collapsed. NIOSH, New York Case Report: 09NY095, (December 2009).
- 55-Year-Old Communications Tower Worker Killed After Falling 60 Feet. NIOSH, New Jersey Case Report: 08NJ052, (March 10, 2010).
OSHA is working with industry stakeholders to identify the causes of these injuries and fatalities, and to reduce the risks faced by employees in the communication tower industry.
NEW Communication Tower Best Practices [PDF] - OSHA/FCC Joint Publication. A guide to establish accepted practices for performing communication towers work safely. (June 2017).