Prior to the 1980s, communication and broadcast tower erection, servicing and maintenance was a very small and highly specialized industry. Over the past 30 years, the growing demand for wireless and broadcast communications has spurred a dramatic increase in communication tower construction and maintenance.
In order to erect or maintain communication towers, employees regularly climb towers, using fixed ladders, support structures or step bolts, from 100 feet to heights in excess of 1000 or 2000 feet. Employees climb towers throughout the year, including during inclement weather conditions.
Some of the more frequently encountered hazards include:
- Falls from great heights
- Electrical hazards
- Hazards associated with hoisting personnel and equipment with base-mounted drum hoists
- Inclement weather
- Falling object hazards
- Equipment failure
- Structural collapse of towers
In 2013, OSHA recorded a total number of 13 communication tower-related fatalities. In 2014, there were 12 fatalities at communication tower worksites. As of November 2015, there have been a total of 3 fatalities. OSHA is working with industry stakeholders to identify the causes of these injuries and fatalities, and to reduce the risks faced by employees in the communication tower industry.
- US Labor Department and Federal Communications Commission announce working group to prevent fatalities in telecommunications industry. OSHA News Release, (October 14, 2014).
- OSHA issues new directive to keep communication tower workers safe. OSHA News Release, (July 24, 2014).
- Inspection Procedures for Accessing Communication Towers by Hoist. OSHA Directive CPL 02-01-056, (July 17, 2014).
- No more falling workers. OSHA focuses on protecting cell tower employees after increase in worksite fatalities. OSHA News Release, (February 11, 2014).
- OSHA letter to communication tower industry employers. (February 10, 2014).
- Protecting the Safety and Health of Communication Tower Workers (PDF). Letter to Regional Administrators, (November 8, 2013).
Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)
- 1926 Subpart M - Fall protection [related topic page]
- 1926 Subpart E - Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment [related topic page]
General Industry (29 CFR 1910)
- 1910 Subpart R - Special Industries
- 1910 Subpart I - Personal Protective Equipment [related topic page]
- Communication Tower Safety: Request for Information. (April 15, 2015).
- Fall from a Telecommunications Tower: FATAL Facts (PDF). OSHA Fatal Facts.
- Preventing Falls in Construction. OSHA's Fall Prevention Campaign.
- Fall protection. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.
- Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) (PDF). FCC and DOL announce wireless apprenticeship program. The Wireless Infrastructure Association is orchestrating the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP). DOL/FCC Fact Sheet.
- Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission Decision issues favorable decision in Byrd Telcom case [PDF], (September 28, 2015).
- Wireless Horizon tower collapse results in deaths of 2 cell tower workers: OSHA finds 2 willful, 4 serious safety violations at Blaine, Kansas, work site. OSHA News Release, (September 25, 2014).
- Cell tower company cited by OSHA for safety hazards following fatality in Clarksburg, West Virginia, tower collapse in February 2014. OSHA News Release, (July 31, 2014).
- Louisiana cellular tower company cited by U.S. Department of Labor's OSHA following worker fatality. OSHA Regional News Release, (December 5, 2013).
The following communications tower incidents have been investigated by OSHA. Most of them were reported to OSHA, or OSHA learned about them from news reports, etc. There have been tower incidents that OSHA did not investigate because they were not reported to OSHA as required.
- November 22, 2013, Optica Network Technologies, Wichita, Kansas. A 25-year-old worker performing cell tower maintenance was killed when he fell 50 feet.
- August 17, 2013, Custom Tower, LLC, Louise, Mississippi. A worker installing microwave dishes on a cell tower was killed when he fell 125 feet. The worker, who was not using a double lanyard, fell after disconnecting his positioning lanyard to reposition himself.
- August 12, 2013, Transmit PM LLC, Coats, NC. A worker performing installation services for Sprint under the direction of Alcatel-Lucent died from a fall.
- July 8, 2013, Monarch Towers, Mountrail County, ND. Two workers were adding structural supports to a 300 foot tower. One worker fell and struck the other, causing them both to die from a 250 foot fall.
- May 28, 2013, Byrd Telecom, Georgetown, MS. Workers were raising a new antenna to the top of a tower to make the tower taller. While installing a hoisting device to raise the boom a cable broke, causing two men to fall to their deaths.
- April 3, 2013, Excell Communications, Birmingham, AL. No fatality, injury - Worker survived a 140 foot fall.
- April 5, 2013, S25 Towerserv, LLC, Franklin, PA. Two employees were hoisting new equipment on a tower, one employee was at approximately 190 feet, the other at 140 feet. The equipment being hoisted came loose striking the lower employee causing him to fall.
- March 19, 2013, Eduardo Corona, Laredo, TX. While installing the last 10-foot section of a 90 foot tower, the bottom section collapsed, causing one employee to fall to the ground and die.
- January 4, 2013, Ws Consulting & Construction, Mount Vernon, Washington. Employee fell 80 feet and died, had fall protection gear on, but the fall protection anchorage point failed.
- August 11, 2011, Hayden Tower Service, Inc., Brookfield, MO. A worker dismantling a cellular tower fell 80 feet and later died in the hospital.
- August 3, 2011, Sink Tower Erection Co., Hollister, NC. A worker was making modifications to 300 foot cellular tower when he fell 50 feet and was killed.
- June 27, 2012, Midwest Steeplejacks, Inc., Lisbon, ND. Employee was on a 300-foot telecommunication tower wearing an ExoFit XP Tower Climbing Harness equipped with a positioning device and twin lanyards, using only one tie-off point. Employee unhooked his positioning device to reposition himself, and fell approximately 153 feet and died.
- October 12. 2011, Ultimate Tower Service, Inc., Newton, MA. An employee was killed from fall while installing a new ladder on a 1000 foot tower.
- Investigation of the March 25, 2014 Failure of Gin Pole Rigging, and Collapse of Cellular Towers at Blaine, KS (PDF). (August 2014).
- Investigation of the February 1, 2014 Collapse of a Telecommunication Tower at the Summit Park Community in Clarksburg, WV (PDF). (July 2014).
- Investigation of the May 28, 2013 failure of gin pole rigging at a cell tower in Georgetown, MS (PDF). (October 2013).
- Investigation of the September 4, 2003 Collapse of the 1000-foot High TV Antenna Tower in Huntsville, AL (PDF). (January 2004).
- Investigation of the September 24, 2002 Collapse of the 1965-foot High KDUH-TV Antenna Tower in Hemingford, NE (PDF). (March 2003).
- Investigation of the October 23, 1997 Collapse of the 1889-foot High TV Antenna Tower in Raymond, MS (PDF). (April 1998).
- Investigation of the October 12, 1996 Collapse of a 1500-Feet High Antenna Tower in Cedar Hill, TX (PDF). (March 1997).
- FACE Reports
- Cell Tower Technician Dies after Antenna Array Falls and Decapitates Him (PDF). Kentucky Incident Number: 14KY032, (August 17, 2015)
- Tower Technician Killed When Guyed Tower Collapsed. NIOSH, New York Case Report: 09NY095, (December 2009).
- 55-Year-Old Communications Tower Worker Killed After Falling 60 Feet. NIOSH, New Jersey Case Report: 08NJ052, (March 10, 2010).
- Three Tower Painters Die After Falling 1,200 Feet When Riding the Hoist Line. NIOSH, In-house FACE Report 2000-07.
- Tower Construction Worker Dies Following 40-Foot Fall From Cellular Tower. NIOSH, MO FACE Investigation 99MO138, (May 22, 2001).
- Tower Painter Dies and a Second Painter Injured After Falling 900 Feet While inside a Man Basket. NIOSH, FACE 9821.
- Tower Construction Worker Dies Following 200 Foot Fall From Radio Tower. NIOSH, MO FACE Investigation: 98MO102, (May 13, 1999).
- Hispanic Tower Erector Falls to Death from Television Tower. NIOSH, Nebraska Case Report: 03NE019, (January 4, 2005).
- Preventing Injuries and Deaths from Falls during Construction and Maintenance of Telecommunication Towers (PDF). NIOSH Alert Publication Number 2001–156, (July 2001)
Share your story with us
If you want to share information with OSHA about communication tower safety such as a best practice, good contract language, or a safer work method, please send your email to email@example.com.
For immediate response, please call 1-800-321-OSHA(6742).
Fatalities in 2015
- Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission Decision issues favorable decision in Byrd Telcom case [PDF], (September 28, 2015).
- Communication Tower Safety: Request for Information. Federal Registers, (April 15, 2015).
- OSHA seeks comment on better protections for communication tower workers. OSHA News Release, (April 14, 2015).
- NEW The Cell Phone in Your Pocket Shouldn’t Cost a Worker’s Life. [DOL Blog] [FCC Blog] (February 11, 2016).
- Standing Down for Tower Climber Safety. Official FCC Blog. (May 15, 2015).
- Safety and Broadband Must Go Hand in Hand. Official FCC Blog. (October 15, 2014).
- It Must Stop. Official DOL Blog by Kathy Pierce. (October 10, 2014).
US DOL – FCC joint Event on communication tower safety and apprenticeship.
Several articles were compiled on the joint FCC and OSHA effort to protect cell tower workers including the following:
- Perez: The Cell Phones in our Pockets Shouldn't Come at the Expense of Workers' Lives. EHS Today, (October 20, 2014).
- New rules would protect cell tower workers. The Hill, (October 14, 2014).
- FCC, Labor team to save tower workers' lives. Broadcasting & Cable, (October 14, 2014).
- Department of Labor, FCC announce wireless apprenticeship program. RCR Wireless News, (October 14, 2014).
Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels' Video Message
National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) Conference
February 25, 2014, San Diego, California
Thank you for inviting me to join you for the 2014 NATE Conference and Exposition. While I can't be with you in person, I applaud this opportunity for you to exchange ideas and experiences with your tower erection, service and maintenance colleagues from across the country.
Unfortunately, the timing of this meeting is significant. In 2013, more communication tower workers were killed than in the previous two years combined. And in the first few weeks of 2014, we have already seen 4 more fatalities.
We at OSHA are very concerned about this sharp rise. The fatality rate in your industry is extremely high - and tower workers have a risk of fatal injury perhaps 25 to 30 times higher than the risk for the average American worker. This is clearly unacceptable.
At OSHA, we are reaching out to educate industry and workers and providing free small business consultations. And we've already increased our inspections and enforcement activities in this industry.
Right now, we are investigating the recent tower collapse in West Virginia that killed two tower workers, as well as a firefighter who died while responding to the incident. Two other tower workers were hospitalized. We are still trying to figure out exactly what happened, but it is clear to us something was not done properly.
In too many of our tower collapse investigations, we find the collapse occurred as workers were replacing structural components or strengthening the tower to accommodate increased capacity. In some cases, too many diagonals were taken out without adequate bracing. In others, workers weren't given clear directions about how to do the work and maintain structural integrity. So before starting a job involving replacing a structural component, employers must develop and implement a plan to prevent collapse and ensure those workers are safe.
Most of the fatalities in this industry are due to falls, and we've found that many of the workers who are killed were wearing harnesses that were not tied off. Employers are responsible for training workers and ensuring that their tower crews are consistently protected. By reinforcing their own safety policies, training and by re-training workers too, and making sure subcontractors follow all safety rules, employers can create a culture of safety.
So here's something we all know but is sometimes forgotten or ignored: Appropriately used fall protection saves lives. A few months ago, a worker was doing maintenance to an antenna at the top of a water tower in Virginia Beach. When his descent control device failed, the safety line connected to the D-ring on his harness stopped his fall and saved his life. This is the type of ending we all would prefer to see; one in which the worker goes home safely at the end of the day. We must make 100% tie-off the norm in this industry.
Considering the tragic events of the last few months, we are extremely concerned that the 2013 upward trend will continue in 2014. As temperatures begin to rise, tower work will increase, and we cannot let that lead to more deaths. Every person in this industry needs to be vigilant to make sure workers are safe.
So here are some steps OSHA has taken recently:
- We've told our field staff to pay special attention to investigation of communication tower incidents. And while we are at the site, our inspectors will collect more complete data about the job and what happened. This information will help OSHA to more fully understand and prevent these tragedies. Our inspectors are also going to be paying close attention to contracts and sub contracts to determine who is doing tower work and what their qualifications are. And we will be taking a hard look at the safety requirements that flow down through the contracts and how owners and contractors ensure that everyone involved meets these requirements.
- We sent a letter to communication tower employers, urging them to join us in preventing these needless deaths. I very much appreciate NATE's help by sending this letter to your mailing list and posting it on your web page.
- We published a new Fatal Facts bulletin about a fatality that resulted from a failed ladder safety device on a 400-foot telecommunications tower. This publication examines the likely causes of the fatality, as well as incident prevention
- We've also launched a new communications tower web page-a "one stop shop" for all of our information, including where we've found violations and where we've issued penalties.
- Moving forward, we'll be issuing a revised communication tower directive, which is currently in the final stages of clearance. The directive tells our field staff how to enforce our standards when they inspect towers. The revised directive addresses safe access by hoist during all work activities, and expands the coverage to maintenance work.
- We also plan to do more inspections at communication towers, and will ask our state partners to do the same.
As you can see, this is something we are taking very seriously at OSHA. I sincerely hope that, together, we can turn this tide and get the message out. That these tragedies should not be written off as the cost of doing business.
There is one way you can help us right now. If you have what you believe is particularly good contract language in terms of safety, or if you follow a process in which tower owners, contractors and subcontractors all work together to ensure no one is hurt - please send the language, or a description of the process, or your best practices, to us. We want to make sure these best practices are spread throughout the industry. The email address to send these to us is on our new communication tower web page.
So, enjoy the conference, learn all you can, and please let your colleagues in the industry know: OSHA is very concerned and we're taking action. We need everybody in the industry to do what they can to stop these senseless tragedies. You can rest assured we will continue to do all that we can to improve safety in this industry, even new regulations, if necessary.
We appreciate your support in helping us to reverse this recent trend in tower deaths, and we look forward to continuing our work with NATE to reach out to the industry.
Thank you so much.