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 the first half of 2014, there have already been nine fatalities at communication tower worksites. This represents a significant increase in fatalities and injuries from previous years, and OSHA is concerned at this trend. 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)
General Industry (29 CFR 1910)
- 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.
- FACE Reports
- NEW 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)
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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 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).