Fall Protection for Telecommunication Tower Workers

The demand for wireless and cell phone communication has dramatically increased the telecommunication tower industry. However, a huge increase in workload has resulted in a major increase of tower worker injuries and fatalities. In 2013, there were 13 telecommunication tower fatalities, and in 2014, there were 12 fatalities. These 25 deaths are more than three times more than the recorded telecommunication tower fatalities from 2011 and 2012. In fact, because of the sudden increase in telecommunication tower incidents, OSHA created a webpage devoted to tower safety. According to OSHA administrator David Michaels, communication tower workers have a 25 to 30 times greater risk of dying on the job than the average U.S. worker.

According to OSHA, telecommunication tower employees regularly climb towers from 100 feet to 2000 feet using fixed ladders, support structures, or step bolts. Workers climb towers throughout the year, including during inclement weather conditions. Some of the more frequently encountered hazards include falls from height, electrical and falling object hazards, hazards associated with hoisting personnel and equipment, inclement weather, equipment failure, and structural collapse of towers.

In addition to the falling hazard, according to an April 2015 request from OSHA, it isn’t uncommon to have six or seven layers of subcontractors between the carrier and the company that employs the workers who actually perform the work. This business structure “poses challenges to setting and enforcing safety rules and ensuring the well-being of employees.”

The tower industry has many fall protection standards to follow:

  • OSHA 29 CFR 1926, Subpart M
  • OSHA Directive, CPL 02-01-036 [2002, March 26]
  • ANSI A10
  • ANSI Z359
  • National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) Tower Climber Fall Protection Training Standard

Unfortunately, many of the recent incidents in the telecommunication tower industry are due to falls from height. Many of the OSHA reported recent fatalities resulted from inadequate training, wrong safety equipment, or misuse of the correct safety equipment. Many companies manufacture and offer telecommunication tower worker specific equipment and training.

A great fall protection solution for telecommunication towers is a vertical rust proof rigid track ladder system. This type of system is great because it keeps the potential fall distance to a few inches, requires little maintenance, offers 100-percent protection from the moment the worker ties-off, and has the ability to protect multiple workers on the same system. This type of system can even be installed on existing vertical ladders depending on how transition points are handled. Although not every telecommunication tower has a ladder, this system could potentially work with large step bolt ladders as well. For example, Rigid Lifelines designed a vertical rust proof rigid track ladder system on the 1 World Trade Center.

OSHA’s Communication Tower Safety webpage and NATE are great resources for tower safety. In fact, NATE has organized a Structures Subcommittee that is currently working with industry engineers and tower structure manufacturers to discuss what advancements and additional tie-off access points can be made to structures in order to help make the industry safer for their workers.

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Nathan Muller

Senior Technical Writer | Rigidlifelines.com
Nathan Muller is the Senior Technical Writer for Spanco and Rigid Lifelines. Nathan has nearly four years of experience in technical communications and copyediting. He graduated from Bob Jones University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Professional Writing. He is also a member of the Society of Technical Communication.