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…

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.

Hazardous noise: a top workplace health issue for decades

When you think of the term “workplace injury,” what comes to mind is probably along the lines of a construction worker being struck by a mishandled object; a machine operator…

When you think of the term “workplace injury,” what comes to mind is probably along the lines of a construction worker being struck by a mishandled object; a machine operator flipping the wrong switch; or a warehouse worker straining her back when a heavy box shifts. You might even picture someone suffering from a repetitive stress injury like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Preventable hearing loss is among the most common job-related injuries, and yet few people ever think they may be at risk. Did you know that an estimated 30 million people are exposed to hazardous levels of noise on the job? It’s true and, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, thousands of people suffer permanent, significant loss of hearing every year — for example, over 21,000 in 2009 alone. That’s why OSHA and the BLS have considered hearing loss from work-related noise levels as one of the top occupational health issues in the U.S. for more than 25 years.

Dangerous levels of noise on the job can damage hearing instantly — but also over time

OSHA considers it unsafe for workers to be exposed to noise of 85 dBA (weighted decibels) or higher over the course of 8 hours. In general industry, employers must implement an effective hearing conservation program whenever noise levels average 85 dBA or more, weighted for time, over an 8-hour period.

That said, very loud noises can cause permanent, physical damage to your ear quite quickly. Like other injuries caused by repetitive stress to the same body part, however, chronic exposure to lower levels of noise can cause the same or similar damage over time.

OSHA’s noise exposure rules take that into account by limiting the amount of time a worker can be around that noise. The louder the noise, the shorter the period of exposure the rules allow.

How would I know if the noise levels are dangerous at my job?

Do you have to shout to have an ordinary conversation? At the end of the day, do you hear humming or ringing in your ears? Those are signs your hearing is at risk.

Interested in knowing how many decibels of noise some familiar noises cause? To help you get a sense of decibel levels, listen to them on the NIOSH Sound Meter, a simple tool developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.