FCC Preps for Tower Safety Event

The FCC is reminding anyone interested in the safety of tower crews—who are expected to be very busy as the FCC repacks stations and cellular networks expand post incentive auction—that it is teaming with the Department of Labor on a workshop Feb. 11.

It is the second workshop on the safety of tower-climbers and the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP)—the first was in October 2014.

The morning workshop will feature sessions on safety best practices, a review of comments to OSHA, and workforce development and implementing the apprentice program.

OSHA said last April it was "aware of employee safety risks in communication tower construction and maintenance activities" and sought comment from the public and industry on the risks.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is expected to address the assemblage for Feb. 11, but he already made his position clear in his own comments, which should be among the ones OSHA is reviewing next week.

"According to the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there were 25 fatal accidents involving work on communication towers in 2013 and 2014," he wrote. "These fatalities are unacceptable. I strongly encourage the entire industry to implement innovative policies from top to bottom to identify and address specific risks, both ongoing and job-specific, to reduce the number of fatalities. The United States is the world leader in the deployment of next generation wireless networks, and we must also be a leader in the safe deployment of those networks."

Falls are the number one cause of tower worker casualties. The National Association of Tower Erectors has told OSHA that employers are providing "appropriate" fall protection equipment and maintaining it and that there is sufficient safety equipment for all types of towers.

But one comment from someone who said he had 16 years experience on towers (he did not identify himself, saying he feared for his job), said "most of accidents reported to OSHA are the ones involving death or big property damage. Many accidents happening on sites are never reported or if reported G.C.'s [general contractors] and carrier don't do enough to avoid them from happening again or improve working environments."

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.