Telecommunications workers risk fatal tower falls, other hazards

Having a cellphone or smartphone is pretty much a necessity for many people — and a coveted item for many others. Unfortunately, all that convenience may be coming at a price you didn’t expect. Over the last two years, OSHA reports that 25 workers have died at communication tower sites and many more have been injured. Those injury and fatality rates jumped suddenly over previous years, so OSHA has a special project in place aimed at reducing the risk to those who build, repair and maintain cellphone towers and equipment.

What are the risks of working on or around cellphone towers?

The obvious risk is falling. Cellphone towers range from about 100 feet in height to as tall as 1,000 or 2,000 feet, and climbing them can be hazardous. Workers are required to climb them in all sorts of weather — if only because the weather caused a problem. Access to the working parts of the tower might involve climbing a ladder affixed to the outside of the tower — or just a series of step bolts. It might not involve actual climbing, but instead being lifted in a base-mounted drum hoist, but hoists are associated with their own hazards.

Without the appropriate fall-prevention architecture and personal protective equipment, a rusty step bolt, a slippery rung or a faulty hoist component could cause a fatal accident.

Electrical hazards and electrocution are also common because communications towers are full of electronic equipment that must be handled safely in an area where movement is limited and the wires and components may be exposed to the weather.

Structural collapse can be a problem with telecommunication towers, as age and exposure to the elements can weaken the structure.

Workers on the ground being hit by fallen objects is another common, yet potentially fatal, occurrence. If dropped tool or a broken tower component comes hurtling toward the ground from a height of around 10 stories or more, it could easily kill someone standing in just the wrong spot.

Of course, we hope telecommunications workers are never asked to work on or around cellphone towers without a full and effective fall protection program in place, but OSHA’s focus on the issue may indicate otherwise. If you or a loved one has been injured, consider contacting a workers’ compensation attorney about your options.

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