Federal agencies address cell phone tower work deaths

"The cellphones in our pockets can't come at the cost of a worker’s life. The cell tower industry might be small, with 10,000 to 15,000 workers, but it’s quickly proving to be one of the most dangerous,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

Perez and FCC Chair Tom Wheeler spoke at an October 14 Washington event  announcing “an unprecedented joint event today focused on new and continuing efforts to prevent worker fatalities on cell towers.” They were joined by a representative from CWA and telecom industry representatives, including one from major carrier AT&T.

Indeed, for the past few years, Speed Matters has periodically run stories calling attention to the extreme danger of working on cell phone towers. In 2013, we wrote “The nonprofit news organization ProPublica found that between 2003 and 2011 50 climbers at these sites were killed, and many more were injured.”

One reason the death and injury rates are so high is that tower workers are non-union and subcontracted. The work for $10 or $11 an hour and sometimes paying for their own safety equipment, through paycheck deductions.

At this week’s event, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels detailed just how dangerous the work is. “The fatality rate in this industry,” he said, “is extraordinarily high — tower workers are more than 10 times as likely to be killed on the job as construction workers.”

However, said Michaels, “[But] these deaths are preventable. OSHA has developed a comprehensive initiative to ensure that safer working conditions and best practices are not just recommendations, but the law of the land. We look forward to the help FCC and industry can provide in making this a reality.”

Speed Matters hopes that DOL, the FCC, OSHA and others take concrete and lasting steps to eliminate tower deaths. But without permanent worker organization, the tower personnel will always be overseen by companies whose first concern is low wage and high profits.

DOL and FCC announce working group to prevent fatalities in telecom industry (DOL news release, Oct 14, 2014)

Cell phone tower dangers continue (Speed Matters, Aug. 22, 2013)