tower fatalitiesA company whose workers were “free climbing” – climbing without safety lines -- has earned citations from OSHA for one willful and eight serious safety violations. Proposed penalties total $52,500.

According to OSHA, the two Morlan Enterprises employees were free climbing a 195’ communication tower in Coolville, Ohio without adequate fall protection.

Workers required to buy their own PPE

The willful violation was for failing to ensure workers climbing the tower were using effective and adequate fall protection, including installing a climbing cable to the tower. Eight serious violations were for failing to provide workers with training on fall hazards, provide personal protective equipment, such as shock-absorbing lanyards and hard hats, and requiring workers to purchase their own fall arrest harnesses and other protective equipment. Other violations involved failing to make provisions for prompt medical attention* before starting work and having first aid kits available for emergencies.

Company operating under government contract

Morlan Enterprises, based in Parkersburg, W. Virginia, was contracted by New Era Broadband Services of Coolville to perform tower construction and antenna installation services at 20 locations in the Meigs County area. The New Era Broadband construction project is being funded by a grant, administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Utilities Service, to bring broadband services to underserved communities in the area.

Fatalities on the rise

The case illustrates why the communication tower industry has experienced an alarming increase in preventable injuries and fatalities.  More fatalities occurred in this industry in 2013 (13) than in the previous two years combined. The majority of these deaths were a result of falls. This disturbing trend appears to be continuing, with seven worker deaths occurring so far in 2014.

OSHA is collaborating with the National Association of Tower Erectors and other industry stakeholders to ensure that every communication tower employer understands how to protect workers performing this high-hazard work.

Resources available

The agency has also sent a letter to communication tower employers urging compliance and strict adherence to safety standards and common-sense practices. OSHA has also created a new Web page targeting the issues surrounding communication tower work. This outreach follows a November 2013 memo to OSHA's compliance officers and regional administrators* mandating increased attention, education and data collection on the industry.

OSHA requires employers to provide fall protection equipment, train employees how to use the safety equipment and ensure that they use it properly and consistently.