OSHA warning about increase in communication tower deaths

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration says there’s been an alarming increase in the number of tower worker deaths in the past few years. This comes after two employees were killed Tuesday morning in Westmoreland. The workers were trying to dismantle an old Union Pacific tower when it fell onto a newer tower installed a month or so ago.

“They call that the most dangerous job in the world and it probably is,” says tower climber Skip Wilson.

It’s a high risk job that some say has become even more dangerous.

“On our side, this is unusual and it’s just really a sad, sad situation,” says spokesperson for Union Pacific, Aaron Hunt.

It may be rare for Union Pacific, but Michael Moon with the Wichita OSHA office, which is now investigating the incident, says this is an issue that’s growing.

“We’ve been given special emphasis on communication towers and the way we look at them because there has been a rise in the number of accidents over the last couple years,” Moon says.

In a letter to all tower industry employers last month, the group states that last year, 13 workers were killed at communication tower work sites across the country – that’s more than the previous two years combined.

“Some of the encountered hazards that we are looking at, of course falls from greater heights, we also have issues with electrical hazards, some of these towers have microwaves on them, things like that, hazards associated with hoisting personnel and equipment and of course structural collapse of towers.”

OSHA says there has been an acceleration in tower work because of “cellular infrastructure upgrades.” Climber Skip Wilson says the number of towers has spiked.

“They’re just riddled across the nation now where 20 years ago, that wasn’t the case,” Wilson says.

With more towers and more work, comes the push for more awareness.

“Everyone is taught the dangers if they enter this kind of a work environment, they learn it and i know all the companies are very astringent on safety,” Wilson says.

Moon says in OSHA’s investigation, they will look to see if there were any violations of OSHA rules, standards or regulations. If so, they could issue citations.

The Union Pacific spokesperson says the company has more than 1,000 of these towers across its 23-state network. They’re typically used for dispatching purposes, inspecting rail tracks and various other types of communication.

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