OSHA To Cell Carriers: Maybe Somebody Could Better Equip And Train Cell Climbers So They Stop Dying?

from the this-shouldn't-be-happening dept

Cellular tower climbing is one of the world's most dangerous professions (in terms of death rate per 100,000 employees), and every time there's a push to upgrade gear quickly, safety guidelines start to get ignored and contractor pressure builds, resulting in the death rate spiking accordingly. With cell carriers all rushing to outpace one another in terms of LTE upgrades, there has been yet another jump in deaths during the last year. According to the latest OSHA statistics, there were 13 cell tower worker fatalities in 2013, a total that was larger than in the previous two years combined. 2014 isn't off to a much better start, with four worker deaths occurring in the first five weeks of 2014.

As such, OSHA this week fired off a letter to cell carriers (via PBS), urging them to do a better job in, well, not letting their employees die:
"OSHA has found that a high proportion of these incidents occurred because of a lack of fall protection: either employers are not providing appropriate fall protection to employees, or they are not ensuring that their employees use fall protection properly. As a result, communication tower climbers are falling to their deaths...I am writing to remind you that it is your responsibility to prevent workers from being injured or killed while working on communication towers
That this is something that companies need to be reminded of is fairly sad, especially since they get reminded of it every several years or so. That doesn't seem to be improving training and subcontractor hiring practices all too much, especially at certain companies. A ProPublica and Frontline investigation from 2012 found that between 2003 and 2011, 50 climbers died working on cellular sites, half of the 100 total number of deaths on all communications towers and ten times the average for general construction work. The report noted the deaths were usually because technicians "were shoddily equipped or received little training before being sent up hundreds of feet." Some companies' track records on this front were better than others:
"One carrier, AT&T, had more fatalities on its jobs than its three closest competitors combined, our reporting revealed. Fifteen climbers died on jobs for AT&T since 2003. Over the same period, five climbers died on T-Mobile jobs, two died on Verizon jobs and one died on a job for Sprint.
AT&T's biggest spike came as the company rushed to address problems post-2009 about the iPhone's impact on the ill-prepared AT&T network. The OSHA letter doesn't single out companies for the rash of 2013-2014 deaths, though carriers bury themselves in layers upon layers of subcontractors to minimize cost and liability. With the billions being made each quarter by the wireless industry (particularly with the recent migration to pricey, low-cap, shared data plans) the steep human cost of bit transfer is inexcusable.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 7:39pm

    AT&T's biggest spike came as the company rushed to address problems post-2009 about the iPhone's impact on the ill-prepared AT&T network. The OSHA letter doesn't single out companies for the rash of 2013-2014 deaths, though carriers bury themselves in layers upon layers of subcontractors to minimize cost and liability.


    This seems to be true with most industries though, why bother trying to adhere to safety and regulations when you can hire back-alley subcontractors that will gladly ignore regulations for you?

    I'm wondering when the government will stop being conned by all this and realize that a subcontractor ignoring regulations doesn't mean the original company has clean hands, either.

     

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      SolkeshNaranek (profile), Feb 19th, 2014 @ 7:56pm

      Re:

      I'm wondering when the government will stop being conned by all this and realize that a subcontractor ignoring regulations doesn't mean the original company has clean hands, either.

      The government will stop being conned when the campaign donations dry up.

      Until that happens, the government will not care how many die (unless it happens to a friend or a relative).

       

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      Pixelation, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 11:06pm

      Re:

      "I'm wondering when the government will stop being conned by all this..."

      When AT&T stops bending over backwards to give the NSA any data they want?

       

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      Mason Wheeler (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:42am

      Re:

      This. Actions speak louder than words. If the OSHA folks say that it is the companies' responsibility, but then don't actually hold them responsible when people die, what's the message that's being sent here.

      I'll believe it when a few telecom executives land in prison. Until then, it's just words.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 7:59pm

    Seems like proof

    ... that cell phones do kill people.

     

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    Just Sayin', Feb 19th, 2014 @ 8:15pm

    ranting at the wrong people

    Your ranting is going in the wrong direction. I know it's sort of your deal to slam the cell companies at every turn, but the reality is anyone who climbs towers for a living knows to work securely and to tie themselves off when working.

    The real problem here is that the employees themselves get fearless, they take risks when moving from point to point on towers or when handling equipment, and they end up falling or being hit and injured. Most of it is related to wanting to get the work done quickly, and not because some cell company exec is standing at the bottom of the tower taking away their safety gear.

    OSHA tends to yell at the employer even if there is nothing they can do.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 8:41pm

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 9:10pm

    "every time there's a push to upgrade gear quickly, safety guidelines start to get ignored and contractor pressure builds, resulting in the death rate spiking accordingly. With cell carriers all rushing to outpace one another in terms of LTE upgrades, there has been yet another jump in deaths during the last year."

    If you want to build more cell phone towers in less time then hire more workers. and cell phone carriers should invest more money to hire more workers instead of being cheap and trying to cut corners.

     

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      Chris-Mouse (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 4:23am

      Re:

      Being cheap and cutting corners increases profit, and thus shareholder value. Since company management is legally obligated to act in a manner most benificial to shareholders, you could probably make a case that the company is required to cut whatever corners it can as long as no laws are broken in the process.

       

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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 19th, 2014 @ 9:21pm

    Here's an idea: if they want to curb worker deaths, how about introducing a freakin' penalty when the death is found to be due to poor training or gear?

    Accidents are one thing, but if the injuries or deaths could have been avoided, but the proper precautions weren't taken because it would 'cost too much', then hit them, hard(I'm thinking 10x the cost of training and appropriate gear), to incentivize them to care enough about safety to actually do something about it.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 11:55pm

      Re:

      Even accidents having a penalty makes sense, provided it is directed properly. Giving survivors benefits if they die on the job is taking responsibility and just the right thing to do. Outright on the job suicides should probably be excluded.

       

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        me, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 2:41am

        Re: Re:

        Yes... Because we all need more regulation and rules don't we! Jesus Christ son! DECENTRALIATION! Not more centralisation!Its not rocket science! Its common sense!

         

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          Pragmatic, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 3:27am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I hope you were being sarcastic, "Me." Not keeping an eye on bad actors for the sake of principle alone is just plain stupid. I should point out that rules are made when some fool does something dumb or thoughtless so we all know not to do it, e.g. drink driving.

          So, if you actually meant that further regulation is bad, what do you propose to replace it with? Nothing? Workers have a God-given right to a safe working environment and sadly, it has to be enforced at times.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 5:20am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Not rocket science indeed, that would require some forethought which is apparently lacking in adherence to proper safety procedures and ramifications thereof.

           

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      ofb2632 (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 2:59am

      Re:

      As a person that climbed towers for 12 years and now oversees crews that climb towers, i can tell you that OSHA does fine companies that have members fall. What they really need to do is fine the cellular carrier (ATT, Sprint, Verizon, etc.) as well. If they fined them a million dollars per major incident, they would stop hiring the tower companies that push crews to unsafe work speeds. Most tower companies have very stringent safety / training practices. They will fire anyone caught 'free climbing' immediately. Its the companies that put profit over safety that needs to be shut down.

       

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    Aerilus, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 9:59pm

    As much as I hate to say is I'm siding with the cell carriers on this one. as long as a harness was provided and the towers were equipped with appropriate attachment points. If you can't figure out that there is a danger of falling off of a hundred foot tower then maybe you need to find a different profession. Personal responsibility has to come into play at some point.

     

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      Aerilus, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 10:08pm

      Re:

      Nevermind. After watching the above youtube clip. it doesn't look like they are providing any sort of attachment system to these towers and explicitely allowing free climbing in Osha regulations. What the hell. they need a some sort or linear friction based track going all the way up that engages if a fall is detected. the fact that they are building and deploying these towers without such a system is blatantly negligent.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 5:33am

        Re: Re:

        As you stated, OSHA allows free climbing. If it is allowed how are the cell carriers responsible?

        OSHA should take on some of the blame and revise their regulations that currently allow clearly dangerous work practices.

        I am normally against more regulation, but it is common sense to require safety gear when climbing hundreds of feet up a tower.

         

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          ofb2632 (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 6:03am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Free climbing is Illegal! But it is a quicker way of climbing and when being pushed hard from the bigger Telco's to complete the jobs quicker and for less money, some companies turn a blind eye to those free climbing.
          On a side note, the vast majority of climbing deaths is due to free climbing.

           

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        ofb2632 (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 1:42pm

        Re: Re:

        They do, its called a Safety Climb. You hook up a piece of equipment called a slider up to it. As you are climbing down, if you go faster than 3 ft per sec, it locks down. Unfortunately, too many people get annoyed with it and don't use it.

         

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    zip, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 10:06pm

    I'd like to know how the death rate for Cellular tower workers compares to the death rate for law enforcement, a profession that -- as we are constantly reminded every time a cop kills an innocent person -- is so extremely dangerous that it justifies the occasional "collateral damage" in the name of "keeping officers safe".

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 12:50am

    I can't believe it's lawful for employees to climb cellphone towers without wearing a fall protection harness. There's your high mortality rate problem, right there!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 5:52am

    I'm sure this will be just as effective as laws that no one is allowed to die due to lack of space or funding for the local township to bury them.

     

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    DannyB (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 7:17am

    Can we please stop picking on the cell carriers?

    Look, give the cell carriers a break already.

    They are not allowed to kill their customers, which they would seem to prefer over killing their employees or subcontractors.

    Even the RIAA / MPAA only merely sue or harass their customers and fans.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 7:21am

    Enforce existing laws and enforce existing penatlies. Simple.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 8:31am

    Here is how you fix this...

    It is simple. Require all of the executives of the cell carriers to climb to the very top of one of the towers at least once a year. After that they will take safety seriously.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 12:16pm

    same as linking to copyright

    TD was recently arguing about how terrible it is to charge, or make responsible web site that link to infringing content.

    The argument is "how far do you want to go" are you going to next want the users of the cell phones to be held responsible?

    Oh wait, that was in defence of copyright infringement, this is an attack on carriers!

    So how far do you want to go, hold cell users responsible, what about the manufacturer of the chips in the phones ?
    After all its the customers constant demand for low cost services that forces the carriers to here contractors who cut corners, so it must be their fault !

    Let us know when you have decided how far you want to go, or is it simply enough to take cheap shots at carriers, because, after all.. you don't like them.

     

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    btrussell (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 3:55pm

    I believe the worker has the right to refuse to go up without proper safety equipment. Or do they also employ sharpshooters forcing them to climb?

    I've cut down many a big dead tree(widow-maker). I've also refused to cut a few.

    "I am normally against more regulation, but it is common sense to require safety gear when climbing hundreds of feet up a tower."

    Do you fly? If yes, what kind of safety gear are you wearing while 35 000 ft above ground traveling @500 mph? Common sense tells me I'd at least want a parachute.

     

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    mdpopescu (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 3:20am

    Non-problem

    Another non-problem, let's make noise about it. 50 people dead in eight freaking years? Seriously? What's next, the danger of drowning in bathtubs?

     

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    matt, Mar 28th, 2014 @ 4:19pm

    tower climbers

    I have 15+ years in the tower industry. These towers are extremely safe to climb if one apply s every safety option available. Safety climb,double hook,proper rigging,hardhats etc, the issue i deal with as a field foreman is the substance abuse issues these guys have on-sight and off.I hate to hear of fatality's of any kind but each person is solely responsible for there own safety when in the air.To blame the carrier is horseshit.

     

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