A maintenance worker fell to his death Jan. 31 from a cell tower in Cameron County, Texas. The next day, a cell phone tower collapsed in Clarksburg, W.Va. Minutes later a second tower at the same Clarksburg site also fell. The collapse of these two towers resulted in the deaths of two workers and a firefighter responding to the scene, and sent two other employees to the hospital with serious injuries.
As a result, 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.
"Tower worker deaths cannot be the price we pay for increased wireless communication," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "Employers and cell tower owners and operators must do everything possible to stop these senseless, preventable tragedies."
OSHA is concerned about the alarming increase in preventable injuries and fatalities at communication tower worksites.
In 2013, thirteen fatalities occurred in this industry, more than in the previous two years combined. This disturbing trend appears to be continuing, with the four worker deaths occurring in the first five weeks of 2014.
In an effort to prevent these tragic incidents, OSHA is increasing its focus on tower safety. The agency has sent a letter to communication tower employersurging compliance and strict adherence to safety standards and common sense practices.
OSHA has created a new Web page targeting the issues surrounding communication tower work, which is available at http://www.osha.gov/doc/topics/communicationtower/index.html
This outreach follows a November 2013 memo to OSHA's compliance officers and regional administratorsmandating increased attention, education and data collection on the industry.
Of the 13 communication tower-related fatalities that occurred in 2013, the majority were a result of falls. OSHA requires employers to provide adequate fall protection equipment, train employees how to use the safety equipment and ensure that they use it properly and consistently.
In the past few months, tower workers have also been injured or killed by falling objects, the structural collapse of towers and equipment failures. For example, OSHA issued citations in December 2013 to Custom Tower LLC of Scott, La., for one willful violation following the death of a worker who fell approximately 125 feet.