FCC, OSHA Release Tower-Safety Guidelines

Just in time for the move of almost 1,000 TV stations in the post-auction repack, the FCC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have safety best practice recommendations for communications towers. 

The guidelines are informal and informational and don't impose or imply any new safety obligations, but the FCC and OSHA are both concerned about the risks to tower crews, including falls, structural collapses, "struck by" hazards, and improper rigging and hoisting.

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

The post incentive auction repack and the buildout of new wireless infrastructure will put new pressure on the limited number of available crews. Then there is the structure of the business. "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," OSHA and the FCC point out, but the towers are often owned by separate corporations and built by outside contractors, so there is a complicated chain of custody over safety.

The new guidelines are in part the product of a joint workshop the two agencies held in October 2014. The FCC also teamed up with the Labor Department on a second workshop.

"As more Americans use mobile devices to call, text and stream content, the safety of workers who maintain and construct communications towers is more critical than ever," said FCC chairman Ajit Pai and Dorothy Dougherty, deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, in a joint statement. "Every day, communications tower workers face potential hazards that can be deadly if not performed safely, and dozens of fatalities have occurred over the past few years. Every tower climber death is preventable. 

"[T]he FCC and OSHA are proud to announce the Communications Tower Best Practices Guide. The guide is a result of the long-standing commitment of both agencies to ensuring the safety of tower workers. In the spirit of good government and cooperation, our agencies have hosted workshops with input from industry stakeholders to identify and establish accepted practices for performing communication towers work safely. The guide is an important step to reduce the tragic number of fatalities involved in communications tower work. We thank the staffs of both agencies for their work and look forward to our continued partnership as we continue to meet the demand for mobile broadband.”

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.