FCC, OSHA Release Tower Climber Safety Guide

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UPDATE The FCC and OSHA released a new Tower Climber Safety guide. Access the 29-page document here.

“As more Americans use mobile devices to call, text and stream content, the safety of workers who maintain and construct communications towers is more critical than ever,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Assistant Deputy Secretary for Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dorothy Dougherty in a joint statement. “Every day, communications tower workers face potential hazards that can be deadly if not performed safely, and dozens of fatalities have occurred over the past few years. Every tower climber death is preventable.”

The agencies have hosted workshops with input from industry stakeholders to identify and establish accepted practices for performing communication towers work securely. This document is a collection of the best practices gathered from those workshops and from talks that continued afterwards.

OSHA and the FCC note in the guide that when carriers own their own towers and directly employ the employees who build and maintain the towers and the equipment on them, the carriers have the ability and incentive to ensure safe practices. But typically the relationship is more complicated:

  • Towers are often owned by separate corporations (not carriers, generally), and are built by contractors;
  • Carriers often contract with “turfing vendors” for equipment installation and maintenance;
  • Turfing vendors may hire other contractors to perform work who may sub-contract tower work to even smaller employers.

 

“As a result, carriers and tower owners may not know who is performing work for them, or when work is being performed,” according to the guide, leaving responsibility for employee safety split into several layers.

Additionally, tower work is physically demanding and requires employees to spend long periods of time away from home; hence, job tenure tends to be short and turnover tends to be high, according to OSHA and the FCC. In light of these circumstances, ensuring employee safety requires accountability and diligence throughout the contracting process, from the carrier to the individual employee performing the work. Issues such as employer and employee participation and hazard identification, assessment and control are covered. So too, are program evaluation and improvement and communication on multi-employer workplaces.

June 2, 2017       

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