OSHA Seeks Input on Communications Tower Construction, Maintenance

As the broadcast and wireless industries prepare for some major work with the buildout of broadband and the repack of TV stations after the incentive auction, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched an inquiry into tower construction and maintenance safety.

"OSHA is seeking information about the causes of the employee injuries and fatalities that are occurring among employees working on communication towers," it said in a request for information (RFI). "The Agency is also seeking comments on safe work practices for communication tower activities, training and certification practices for communication tower workers, and potential approaches the Agency might take to address the hazards associated with work on communication towers."

Tower companies, broadcasters and others are being asked to weigh in.

OSHA said that according to figures from 2003 to 2013, there were 107 incidents resulting in 91 fatalities and 17 injuries, most of those fatalities (79) due to falls. OSHA says that 2013 was the deadliest year, with 15 incidents and 13 fatalities.

"OSHA is aware of employee safety risks in communication tower construction and maintenance activities and is requesting information from the public on these risks," it said in seeking input, with a deadline of 60 days after the request is published in the Federal Register.

OSHA is seeking a raft of information, including the size and number of firms, wages and turnover rates, experience level and equipment used. It also wants to know whether towers can be designed and built with elevators or booms/davits to help with hoisting, and industry standards for fall protection anchor points.

OSHA has asked for both regulator and nonregulatory approaches to improving worker safety.

At an October 2014 OSHA/FCC workshop on tower safety, both FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez (OSHA is part of Labor), called on agencies and industry to work together to identify best practices.

“Workforce safety and improved network quality are critical issues for [the association] and our members,” said PCIA – The Wireless Infrastructure Association, whose members build out cellular broadband networks, including towers. “We are actively engaged with the Department of Labor and Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) in working to find ways to ensure that workers are better equipped to perform under the safest conditions possible.  We want to help create the wireless workforce of the future with the best training available to those who are deploying wireless infrastructure.  PCIA welcomes the opportunity to work with OSHA and other government leaders on this critical effort.”

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.