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February 20, 2014
OSHA issues warning about cell phone tower deaths

Citing “an alarming increase in worker deaths,” OSHA administrator David Michaels has sent a warning to cell phone contractors and the companies that hire them. Learn more about his message and the tragedies that precipitated it.

The letter to communication tower industry employers notes that 13 workers were killed at tower sites in 2013, which is more than the 2 previous years combined. Another four workers lost their lives in the first weeks of 2014.

“Every single one of these tragedies was preventable,” Michaels stated. In his letter, the OSHA chief acknowledged an increase in communication tower work during the past year due to cellular infrastructure upgrades. He said OSHA is concerned about the possibility of more incidents “especially when the hazardous work is done by employees of subcontractors.” Michaels called on industry employers to take immediate steps to address the issue.

According to OSHA, many of the incidents resulted from a lack of fall protection. Michaels suggested that employers are either not providing appropriate fall protection or are failing to ensure that it is being properly used. In addition to falls, workers have also been injured and killed by falling objects, equipment failure, and the structural collapse of towers.

What are the requirements to protect communications tower workers?

In his letter, Michaels outlined employers’ duty under the law. Requirements include:

  • Before their initial assignments, new hires must be adequately trained and monitored to ensure that safe work practices are learned and followed.
  • Employees working on towers must be provided with appropriate fall protection and trained to use it properly. The use of fall protection must be consistently supervised and enforced. Michaels noted that OSHA will consider issuing willful citations in appropriate cases.
  • During inspections, OSHA will pay particular attention to contractor issues.
  • Contractor selection should include safety criteria and close oversight of subcontracting. Michaels wrote, “Simple ‘check the box’ contract language may not provide enough information to evaluate a contractor’s ability to perform the work safely.

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