Fatal Wichita Fall Highlights Communication Tower Worksite Dangers

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These days there are fewer linemen and more communications tower technicians in Wichita. Both jobs can be very hazardous.

On Nov. 23, 2013, 25-year-old Douglas Klein, a worker performing maintenance, fell about 50 feet to his death while descending from a communications tower at work site in Wichita, Kan.

tower_worker_deathsHe was one of 13 workers who died at communication worksites in 2013, with the majority killed in falls. OSHA requires employers to provide fall protection equipment, train employees how to use the safety equipment and ensure that their employees use it properly and consistently.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Optica Network Technologies, which operates as Pinpoint Towers LLC, with three serious safety violations following the Wichita worker’s fatal fall.

In April 2014 OSHA proposed penalties of $21,000. The company has no previous history with OSHA.

Ed Dennis, director of safety and training for Pinpoint Services, said “there was a comprehensive JHA on site and the citations will be vigorously contested,” according to the trade publication Wireless Estimator. http://www.wirelessestimator.com/breaking_news.cfm/community/jeap/wifi/jeap/tracking/wifi/images/uploads/t_content.cfm?pagename=Tower%20Worker%20Video

“All employers, and especially those in high-hazard industries such as communication tower construction and maintenance, must properly train their workers on the need to maintain fall protection at all times,” said Michael Moon, OSHA’s acting area director in Wichita. “Employers and cell tower owners and operators must do everything possible to stop these senseless, preventable tragedies.”

The serious citations allege Pinpoint Towers failed to ensure fall protection was maintained at all times while the worker was traversing the communication tower, and did not conduct a comprehensive job hazard assessment to include fall protection methods prior to the employees’ traversing the tower.

Finally, the company failed to provide certification that the hazard assessment had been completed and did not provide adequate fall protection training to workers, OSHA alleges.

A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

OSHA is concerned about the alarming increase in preventable injuries and fatalities at communication tower worksites.

As a result, OSHA is collaborating with the National Association of Tower Erectors and other industry stakeholders to ensure that every communication tower employer understands their responsibility to protect workers performing this high-hazard work.

Cell Phone Tower

Cell Phone Tower

More fatalities occurred in this industry in 2013 than in the previous two years combined. This disturbing trend appears to be continuing, with seven worker deaths occurring so far in 2014. In an effort to prevent these tragic incidents, OSHA has sent a letter to communication tower employers urging compliance and strict adherence to safety standards and common sense practices.

OSHA has also created a new Web page targeting the issues surrounding communication tower work.

This outreach follows a November 2013 memo to OSHA’s compliance officers and regional administrators* mandating increased attention, education and data collection on the industry.

OSHA says it is committed to working with the communications industry to prevent these injuries and fatalities, and it will continue outreach and enforcement efforts to make sure communication tower workers are adequately protected. Small- and medium-sized employers can access OSHA on-site consultation programs for free assistance in providing safe workplaces.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director in Wichita or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

To report workplace incidents, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, call the agency’s Wichita Area Office at 316-269-6644 or the toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

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