The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Wireless Horizon Inc. with two willful and four serious safety violations following an investigation of a March 25 cell tower collapse that killed two workers in Kansas.
The deaths of the workers, two technicians ages 25 and 38, bring the number of U.S. communication tower deaths to 11 so far this year. There have been 24 deaths among cell tower workers since the beginning of 2013, according to OSHA records.
The Wireless Horizon workers were dismantling a tower in Blaine, Kansas, using a gin pole, a special load-lifting device. The pole was attached to the side of the tower with a wire rope sling. According to OSHA, the sling broke, causing the gin pole and its load to fall, bringing the tower down with it.
Both workers, one positioned above the gin pole and the other below it, fell to their deaths when the tower collapsed. The tower also struck an adjacent cell tower, causing it to fall as well.
OSHA inspectors found the equipment the company provided the workers to use on the job was in poor condition. The company also failed to use proper engineering plans to ensure that the workers would be protected from such a tower collapse, OSHA said.
Wireless Horizon also failed to inspect the wire rope slings before they were used on the job and failed to protect the slings that were rigged over sharp objects. The company also failed to develop a rigging plan before beginning the demolition process. Moreover, the company did not provide the technicians with a load chart or operator manuals for the gin pole they were using.
OSHA proposed penalties of $134,400 for the safety violations and placed the company in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program, a special program workplace safety regulators use to bring some of the most reckless and dangerous employers into compliance.
“Two families have lost their loved ones in a preventable tragedy,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant OSHA secretary of labor. “No one should ever have to endure that loss. Inspecting and ensuring equipment is in good working order is a common-sense safety procedure that stops injuries and fatalities.”
Dr. Michaels said that Wireless Horizon and other tower owners have a duty to protect their workers on job sites by increasing training and implementing all relevant safety precautions, especially in an industry as hazardous as communications tower building and demolition.
“Our nation’s growing need for telecommunications should not cost workers their lives,” Dr. Michaels said.
In fiscal year 2013 (Oct. 1, 2013 – Sept. 30, 2014), 4,405 workers died on the job. Tower climbing is a relatively small field of workers numbering about 10,000, but it has one of the worst safety profiles of any industry. Complicating matters, cell phone carriers and tower owners have shielded themselves from liability for workplace injuries and deaths by “delegating this work to layers of subcontractors,” ProPublica reported.
This ongoing spate of tower deaths has prompted OSHA to change how it investigates communications tower deaths and assigns liability for tower climber injuries and deaths.