MidAmerica Tower Service, Inc., a non-union communication tower contractor that employs 11 full-time employees, has been an active participant in the Region V OSHA/National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) Partnership since it was signed in November 2006. MidAmerica is only one of the 86 contractors approved to participate in the national Partnership. NATE and OSHA have worked jointly for several years to improve the safety and health of communications tower workers.
Commitment to Safety and Health Leads to Improved Safety Culture
In June 2006, MidAmerica Tower's CEO, Phillip T. VanSwol, made a major commitment to improving the company's safety and health management system (SHMS). One of the ways Mr. VanSwol decided to improve the safety culture was to hire a full-time safety and training coordinator, even though he operated a small business of only 11 employees. Mr. VanSwol also developed and implemented a Cathead Safety Certification Program that all managers and employees are required to complete.
In July of 2007, an OSHA evaluation team conducted an onsite at two of MidAmerica's cell tower job sites. At one of the sites, MidAmerica employees were pulling lines of coaxial cable 187 feet up the face of a self-supported tower, and connecting the lines to antennas. Cables were cut, rigged, and hoisted up the tower by the use of a Cathead/Capstan hoist. Mr. VanSwol used this as an opportunity to field-train a new employee on the Cathead hoist. Following the training, the new employee told the onsite team that he had never received so much initial safety training in his 20 years of working in this industry.
At the second onsite, MidAmerica's employees were finishing up grounding and terminating lines into a surge arrestor located in a shelter building at the foot of the self-supported tower. Two more employees were formally interviewed and also had high praise for the company's dedication to safety and health. They also repeatedly stated that in all of their years of performing tower construction, they had never worked for a company that actually "practices what it preaches."
Increased Safety and Health Focus Leads to Achieving VPP Star Status
In July 2006, after making the commitment to improve the company's SHMS, MidAmerica applied for recognition in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP). On September 28, 2007, MidAmerica Tower was approved as a Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) Mobile Workforce Demonstration for Construction at the Star level company throughout the State of Illinois. At this same time, the company had and injury and illness rate 100% below the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) national average. Since MidAmerica Tower was the first communications tower company to achieve this, they received their VPP Star at the annual NATE conference in February 2008.
The key objectives of this Partnership are to analyze participant data to identify causal factors and share corrective actions; identify best practices for the development and implementation of successful ergonomics programs and guidelines; develop, implement, and share best practices with participants, establish a website or tool to communicate best practices among participating NATE members; develop a recognition system to recognize participants for reductions in injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the industry, and increase the number of employees that attend the OSHA 3150 Tower Safety course.
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