OSHA and FCC Partner for Cell Tower Worker Safety

Tower climbing is a small field, with only about 10,000 workers – it takes a lot of guts to want to go 200 feet or more into the air. And now it’s earned the reputation of being one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S.  In 2014, there were 12 communication tower-related fatalities making the average fatality rate for this specific field about 10 times the average for construction workers.Wearing personal fall arrest equipment is only part of the answer. Training is essential, not only to ensure proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) but to understand risks, and how to avoid them.  In the hierarchy of hazard control, PPE is at the bottom, and yet in some cases, absolutely essential. Recognizing hazards and eliminating them is step number one. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide the necessary training to protect workers from fall hazards.Recently the assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), Dr. David Michaels, and the chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Federal Communications Commissions (FCC), Roger Sherman, co-authored a blog on the dangers facing the workers in the cell tower construction field. In October 2014 OSHA and the FCC formed a partnership to improve safety for cell phone tower workers, which seems to have achieved some early success since in 2015 the number of fatalities have declined to three. They will continue working through this collaboration in order to continue to improve safety for all cell phone tower workers.Sherman and Michaels agree that the way to worker safety is through training.“The foundations of a safe worksite are safety training and smart workforce development. The Employment and Training Administration’s Tower Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program, or TIRAP, is an important effort to provide a comprehensive, standardized development program for new workers in the industry…”Sherman and Michaels say that TIRAP incorporates input from across the industry in order to create a comprehensive program. Continuous feedback from workers should also be evaluated and incorporated so that the program evolves as new information becomes available.  The RCR Wireless website describes the tower climber job as requiring a lot of travel, between 20% and 80%; with a salary range between $30k and $80k per year. A college degree is typically necessary for technical work like RF maintenance. Construction experience is beneficial, as well as experience with working at heights. Certain certifications are usually required of tower climbers, but can be offered by an employer post-hire. The most common include: OSHA 10 Hour for Construction, Gravitec/ComTrain Authorized Climbing and Rescue, First Aid/CPR/AED, RSI RF Awareness, and Crosby Rigging.The TIRAP basic apprenticeship was developed for the Telecommunication Tower Technician (TTT) role. The apprenticeship includes safety training such as; competent climber, rescue and PPE, radio frequency health and safety, jobsite hazard analysis, and understanding scope of work (SOW).Technical training for the basic TIRAP apprenticeship includes; basic rigging, material handling, ropes & knots, antenna and line installation and maintenance, lighting system installation and maintenance, tower structural installation, applicable standards awareness, exothermic welds, test equipment, basic understanding of regulatory (NEPA, NHPA, Endangered Species Act, etc.), operate hand and power tools, operate trucks, trailers and equipment, competent in the operation capstan, equipment applicable to the SOW and introduction to various types of structures and appurtenances.There are plans to further develop the TIRAP to include different levels of certification including leadman, foreman and project manager. We hope that the attention and effort that has been put into creating a standardized, best-practice apprenticeship program will continue to improve the safety for tower climbers at all levels.