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Tower engineering professionals are busy in the field working to quickly upgrade the country’s wireless network to support the Fifth Generation (5G) specifications now required. The old network infrastructure must be inspected and retrofitted to hold the new equipment.
Ingenuity, physical labor, and old school tools, are being paired with sophisticated, expensive technology to get the 5G networks up and running.
Communication tower employees including engineers and other workers climb cell towers to perform construction and maintenance activities. Cell tower workers face numerous hazards including fall hazards, hazards associated with structural collapses and improper rigging and hoisting practices, and “struck-by” hazards.
Wireless coverage is expanding in rural areas and is certainly a priority in West Virginia where so many mountain areas are underserved.
In West Virginia, thousands of new, small-cell transmitters about the size of shoeboxes have been installed on telephone poles and street lamps, but cover only a radius of around a couple of thousand feet. The 5G wireless service will depend just as much on traditional cell towers that are at least thirty feet and up to 2,000 feet high. The old towers need to be reinforced to accommodate the additional load of equipment.
Tower workers not only have to be fearless enough to work at astounding heights, but also have to have the stamina to work grueling hours. The cell service tower workers are called to drive several hours to remote locations, and a single shift can last up to 12 hours.
The work is physically demanding and requires employees to spend long periods of time away from home; hence, job tenure tends to be short and turnover tends to be high, making adequate training a difficulty as well as a priority.
More cell tower installations and upgrades mean more jobs and better wireless service, but this demand can also lead to corner-cutting safety violations and dangerous conditions for workers.
Tower Workers Risk Injury and Death
West Virginia has benefited from the new connectedness and job opportunities that the cellular communications industry has created. Cell tower workers have one of the toughest jobs. Climbing cell towers requires bravery, dexterity, physical strength, and the ability to keep your balance when scaling heights of up to two thousand feet above the ground.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) tells us that 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:
It doesn’t need to be this way. Wireless communications carriers are required to abide by the safety measures established by OSHA in order to keep their workers safe from harm.
Every major communications provider has a safety manual that must be followed to the letter to keep their tower workers safe.
To the greatest degree possible, management should provide mechanical and physical protection required for personal safety and health. Adequate training in detecting hazards, reporting dangerous conditions, and reporting safety violations, and controlling workplace hazards is imperative is the responsibility of every individual.
The business structure of the communication tower industry presents additional challenges to ensuring employee safety. When carriers own their own towers and directly employ the employees who build and maintain the
towers and the equipment on them, the carriers have the ability and incentive to ensure safe practices.
Typically, however, the relationship between carriers and tower employees is more complicated. For example:
■ Towers are often owned by separate corporations (not carriers, generally), and are built by contractors;
■ Carriers often contract with “turfing vendors” for the installation and
maintenance of equipment on towers;
■ Turfing vendors, in turn, may hire other contractors to perform work;
■ These contractors may sub-contract tower work to still smaller employers.
As a result, carriers and tower owners may not know who is performing work for them, or when work is being performed. Thus, responsibility for employee safety is fractured into many layers. Instead of a single company having control and responsibility for employee safety and tower integrity, employer responsibilities can be spread over numerous small employers.
The work is physically demanding and requires employees to spend long periods of time away from home; hence, job tenure tends to be short and turnover tends to be high.
In light of these circumstances, ensuring employee safety requires accountability and diligence throughout the contracting process, all the way from the carrier to the individual employee performing the work.
The families of communication tower employees who had
been killed on the job gathered to discuss issues affecting the safety of communication tower employees and were included in the discussion about best practices that could reduce injuries and fatalities among tower employees. From the OSHA Communication Tower Best Practices Guide
West Virginia Personal Injury Attorney
If you or someone you love has been injured or killed as a result of a cell tower accident, we may be able to help. Our attorneys are experienced in a variety of workplace accident cases. Contact Us to learn what our attorneys at Robinette Legal Group, PLLC can do for you. Call today: 304.594.1800.