FCC, Labor Team to Save Tower Workers' Lives

The FCC and the Department of Labor said Tuesday they have created a working group to prevent tower-related fatalities. That was one of the takeaways from a joint event on tower safety.

The group will "collaborate in the development and implementation of recommended safety practices for the growing telecommunications industry" according to the Department of Labor, after eight tower workers died in 2011 and 2012 combined, 13 workers died in 2013 and already 11 so far in 2014.

The focus is on cell phone towers, but with the incentive auction repacking and potential channel sharing, TV tall tower safety is a concern as well.

A representative from OSHA outlined steps taken to curb tower-related injuries and fatalities, including an emphasis on worker training.

Also at the event, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and others joined in the official launch of a Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program that will provide safety training for tower workers.

"If we don't do something now, the number of fatalities is going to grow as fast as the industry does," said Labor secretary Thomas Perez. "We know we can't solve this problem alone though, and that's why I am so glad to be joined in partnership on this issue with the FCC and major carriers like AT&T. It's a perfect example of federal agencies and industry breaking down barriers and identifying common goals to save workers' lives."

FCC Commissioners Clyburn was also at the event.

"[W]e need to develop new and innovative tools for identifying and addressing specific risks. It may be that we need a 'sign-before-you-climb' approach that assesses climber-specific and job-specific risks at each job site in advance and on the day of the job before any worker even climbs a tower," she said in a statement. "It may be that we need to rethink the safety provisions in the contracts between wireless companies and service vendors. And we may need to keep regulatory options on the table. All of these options must be part of the conversation going forward."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.