International Tower Climber Deaths

Discussion in 'Safety - General Safety Issues' started by Wireless Estimator, Aug 16, 2009.

  1. Wireless Estimator

    Wireless Estimator Administrator Staff Member

    Below are comments regarding's article on international tower deaths at: . You are welcomed to add your comments to this thread.
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    The quotes from other people in your article that the job is taken seriously as a profession had more than a ring of truth to it.

    Years ago we didn't have as many deaths and it could be because the industry was more professional. We might be doing more technically advanced things today as climbers, but tower climbers then were a proud breed.

    Today, you're just an expendable commodity that will be discarded when the pipeline dries up.

    Also, years ago you had a lot of families as well in the industry and they made sure that their family members were going to be safe.

    This was an excellent article! I've never thought about how we compared to other countries.

    S. Terwilliger

    If you were to believe that tower climbing is dangerous no matter where in the world it is done - then you are right to point out that there should have been at least another 630 deaths during that six year period.

    On the average, you would have seen over 100 deaths from other countries each year.

    Although some might slip by we would have seen a lot more headlines about deaths unless you believe that there is a vast conspiracy to make the US look bad.

    It appears we can do that on our own without any assistance.

    Glenn Easterly

    Just what we need, another article to make us look bad and raise our insurance rates. You would be better off in doing a story about how we all have to pay the cost of supporting the companies out there that don't take safety seriously and have these fatalities.

    Jay Coulter

    This is an interesting and well researched article. It promotes the need for us to look at our current safety requirements and see why we're not achieving better results similar to Canada and other countries.

    We appear to want to monitor our success or failure based upon our own success and failures, ignoring a higher benchmark.

    I hope your article promotes dialogue between international safety organizations.

    Anthony Petrone

    Great article on international fatalities. You seem to be correct that if climbing is dangerous, then it should be dangerous everywhere else in the world. But apparently it is not since other countries do not have the high incident rate that the United States has over the years.

    Could it be that US riggers have become too reliant upon their safety equipment and believe that they can't fall when in fact they do?

    S. Peters
    Brisbane, Australia

    I have worked in Nigeria and other countries and there is risk of life. I am looking to go abroad. I am not aware of workers dying from falling. Other accidents are known. We receive a slimy salary from our employers in the telecoms industry.

  2. Wireless Estimator

    Wireless Estimator Administrator Staff Member

    August 19, 2009
    Schedule and margin pressures seen as possible reasons for higher death count of techs in the US
    Just the title alone spells one of the issues that many companies face. As do others, I myself have an opinion as to why the death count is high compared to other countries.

    Many companies do follow guidelines and rules to train their employees, but only to a minimum. But over the years, training has become paramount to the industry, but cost and time to the companies employing these individuals along with scheduling and finding quality people has hindered the growth in safety.

    When big general contractors come in and manage a project for the carrier they take all margins out and drive costs down. This eliminates half the companies trying to bid the work.

    Then they accelerate the build so they make money and take no risk (death risks, but do take financial risk) but all the reward. As the years have gone by the industry moves like a roller coaster from year to year as work is heavy (more than you can handle) or nothing.

    There are many factors as to the death toll in the US, but I have seen it and I believe that undeliverable schedules they promise the carriers and margin pressure is the biggest.

    When carriers release these build-outs it is a furry frenzy to get as many sites built in an amount of time that cannot be done safely. How is it safe that some carriers try and press 7 day builds per site (co-locations) or build out a market in 3 months, SAFELY.

    If you don't build it in that time you are frowned upon and may not get more work from these companies. The pressures are even harder now, but the work is not there yet this year for many.

    I believe if you were to track a true number of deaths you need to compare the number of projects or hours in the air versus just the deaths per 100.

    Also, to say that the NATE/OSHA Partnership improved safety by 40% is not looking at all the facts.

    There are far more companies in the US in the tower industry that are not a part of NATE. The reason for the lower death rate this year in my opinion is because of less work being done in the industry than previous years, not because of the Partnership.

    NATE has done very well to its members to assist them with safety awareness, but those members are in the minority compared to the companies that are not a part of NATE. This was a great article, thank you.


    August 19, 2009
    I agree that there are some nations where the deaths were not reported over the past 6 years, but 600 or so appears to defy common sense. I'm sure that you will update your chart when all of the US's international project managers start reporting in to you. A follow-up story should be in order.

    Thanks for the in depth article. I always enjoy your site.

    R. Petrie

    August 19, 2009
    This article is truly enlightening and doesn't bode well for US tower safety statistics. My background includes 24 years of building towers, the first few years in Canada.

    I have also experience working for 9 months in a third world Indo/Asian country alongside local tower crews, as well as several Caribbean stints.

    Unfortunately, tragic incidents in many third world countries are very unlikely to be reported as they are often looked upon as "just a fact of life" in hazardous industries.

    I know one supervisor who was in Bangladesh in the mid 80's overseeing a 500' broadcast tower being put up by a crew with no wire rope on site, no belts and no shoes. As the job neared its end, one worker patted our superintendent on the back and said, "This been good job, Mr. Bob, no man die."

    Nonetheless, it is highly unlikely that this lack of reporting in other countries would overshadow the atrocious statistics in the US cited in the article. The situation will only likely get righted when the cell carriers and tower owners stop their attitude of "build it faster, and much, much cheaper," and start taking ownership of the lives lost.

    The 'bury their heads in the sand mentality' of owners and carriers is a huge part of the overall tragedy rate, in my opinion.

    Unfortunately, over the years I have been to more than a couple of funerals for the fallen I've known. Every one I hear about definitely hits home

    Charlie Tomlinson

    August 19, 2009
    Everywhere you go you have death. Why is the U.S. so high in deaths? I do think it's bull that the other places in the world don't have the deaths like we do. I think they don't report it or somehow cover it up. I have been climbing for a little over 5 years, and yes, safety is always 100%. Yes, you do have people that are only 50% safe and you do have towers that fall too. So, all I'm saying is you are saying U.S. people are the only people in the world that have some idiots working on towers. I think not, there are a lot of [unsafe] people in the world and not all of them live in the USA.
    Chris Cappuccio

    August 19, 2009
    It would be interesting to hear from riggers from England and Canada to see if it is mandatory to use a cherry picker to work on their smaller towers. In the US, we sometimes have to use them where it is mandatory, but many times it is not a requirement by the carrier or managing GC.

    With a lot of projects, you can be assured that some of the sub, subcontractors did not budget for it, or if they did, they will try to get by without one to try to make a profit. Even then, it is unlikely.

    Many PMs will tell you to just get the job done and they will not authorize the additional cost of a man lift. Or they will tell you that they can only authorize it for X amount of days.

    Then you are hurried to get the project done and it might not be able to be done safely.

    Then there are days where you cannot work because it is too windy and you are told that you are not going to get a change order for the additional days requested for the lift because the PM did not budget for it.

    Even if you present your case openly and objectively about your desire to try to do the job safely with the equipment and time it will take, chances are you will be told to take a hike if you cannot meet their budget and project deadline.

    I like the idea of a PM or site supervisor being accountable for their actions. As much as I do not want to see anyone get hurt, if there was a serious injury and the PM was responsible for the incident due to his callous disregard, I would like to see him hang out to dry.

    I would be willing to bet that you would see an overnight turnaround in this industry if legislation was passed that would allow for the government to take actions against individuals in management and supervisory levels.

    Let us see how anxious they would then be to unsafely rush the job along - or knowingly disallow a man basket when needed.

    I am also tired of seeing the carriers and tower owners talk about how they are so concerned about safety. It is a hollow feel-good message that costs them nothing. Their real cost is what they pay their attorneys to draft contracts that will insulate them from the deaths and injuries that they know will occur on their sites due to ongoing practices.

    Scott Wielder

    August 19, 2009
    At the end of the day we will see people disagreeing with the number of deaths in underdeveloped nations and I'm sure there will be some credible additions to your statistics as well as reservations about the accuracy of the totals such as John's interesting comments about what he was aware of in South America.

    Fortunately, Canada and Britain are not third world nations and it appears that nobody has any documentation that can dispute their excellent statistics. Plus, there are many other G8 nations that are advocates of safety and have stringent requirements, but we don't see any news reports regarding their fatalities where they have an open and free press.

    Let us not listen to the lose cannons in our profession that will want to paint these countries with the same brush and throw this excellent information in this article under the bus - unless you have evidence that there is a conspiracy by Canadian and UK officials to purposely hide their fatalities with their sole desire being to make the US look bad.

    This is a really in depth and interesting article and you should be commended.

    Thomas Atwood
  3. Wireless Estimator

    Wireless Estimator Administrator Staff Member

    August 20, 2009
    Great article on international safety standards.

    We have handled and managed over $35 million in claims over the past 12 years, handling over 500 accounts over that period in tower erection. The lack of training, low pay, long hours, and general apathy among telecom companies contributes to the many fatalities and severe claims in the US.

    There is essentially no outrage when these things occur. The main reason is that usually the telecom companies don?t pay claims that occur on their construction jobsites, the insurance companies that insure the contractors do.

    The telecom companies must get involved in the safety and compliance areas of construction as other industries do to reduce the claims. At this point they are removed from the process, and in many cases using ineffective third parties to manage the sub contract process.

    Hazardous occupations in other industrial countries are treated with more oversight and respect than their American counterparts, and thus cause significantly less human and financial loss.

    Patrick Shea
    Crump Insurance Services, Inc |
    Austin, Texas

    August 20, 2009
    First, tower owners should shoulder a responsibility for what happens on their sites. They will tell you that they?re proactive in making sure that safety is a major concern, but their primary focus is to make sure that the carrier or broadcast tenant has a copy of their requirements.

    That gives them the warm fuzzies and they go home at night knowing they are fighting the good cause.

    But while they?re sleeping, tower techs are working on their towers doing cutovers and nighttime maintenance, and it?s doubtful that they?re even aware of most of those activities.

    Also, quite often ? day or night - the tenant doesn?t even know who is performing the services that they contracted for since so many companies are now heavily involved in cutting their in-house workforce and subbing most of the work to local subs.

    Here?s an idea for tower owners:
    Charge every tenant an equitable amount for site supervision. Therefore, every time that a sub is on site, the tower owner?s representative would show up to make sure:

    1. The crew has been approved by the tenant, and has the documentation to prove it. That would include company vehicles with permanent signs.

    2. Employees have the proper safety equipment and programs in place on site such as a full time fire watch while welding.

    3. The crew has secured the site adequately.

    4. A member of the crew must document that their company meets the pass down requirements of the owner such as insurance coverage.

    5. Work being done is not in violation of the owner?s standards for the tower.

    While visiting the site the representative would identify whether the crew was working in an unsafe manner, such as hanging off of non-rated antenna mounts or free climbing. Upon any observation of a serious violation, it would be a requirement for the job to be shut down and the tenant notified immediately.

    This would not involve a serious financial impact on any project. If the project runs for seven days, it would require approximately 14 hours (it would not be a requirement to be on site for any length of time) of work at $50 per hour, a total of $700.

    Here?s the challenge:
    I would like to here from the tower companies why this would not work and why something similar isn?t being done. And please, don?t say it is because the carrier will not pay for it or another towerco would get more business if they didn?t charge for site supervision.

    That would just fortify the general belief that tower companies are more concerned about the bottom line than safety.

    I believe that this would flush out a lot of the companies that willingly violate safety standards either through a lack of knowledge or a lack or concern about their fellow workers.

    Thank you for this forum. It?s the first time I?ve ever responded, but I felt it was important to see if I can help the industry instead of complaining about it.

    D. Faulkner

    August 20, 2009
    It?s more of the same. Everybody gets pumped up about doing something, but the enthusiasm will die until the next few climbers die. Then we?ll start all over again. Sad, but true.

    Robert Culvert
    Asheville, North Carolina
  4. Wireless Estimator

    Wireless Estimator Administrator Staff Member

    September 2, 2009
    Every logical idea presented here is going to cost additional money to save lives and reduce injuries. Therefore, it's unlikely that you will see tower companies or carriers jump on board. Or broadcasters. Or government agencies. Or utilities.

    These "Ors" are the companies that say they want you to be safe on the job "or" else they'll get someone else to do it.

    It's a Catch 22. Excellent article.

    Larry Marchant

    August 31, 2009
    Thanks for publishing the accident where a Canadian tower worker fell last week. I hope they get to the bottom of the faulty equipment issue. Have you had any of your readers provide any additional deaths from their country?

    Pelham, NY

    Editor's Note:
    Although this article continues to reach a large international audience, we have not received any documented fatalities other than the ones that were first reported.

    August 26, 2009
    I emailed this article to one of the execs at a major tower company last week and I was really surprised when he sent me back an answer stating that he had already read it and was going to review his company's policies based upon our concerns.

    It would be great if there was a list available of the emails of the people that can make a change in these large companies.

    C.W. Preston

    August 26, 2009
    It is interesting to note that five of the ten international deaths that you describe happened on a project managed by a company in the United States. Draw from it what you want.

    Walter Pate
    Queensland, Australia

    August 25, 2009
    I'm sure that all eyes will be on Canada to see if they have any deaths while trying to meet a workload that appears to be the busiest they've ever had according to news reports.

    I have a friend that is now working on these jobs and he says that there is a difference in the work attitude of the country's tower climbers. How big, I don't know.

    There are not as many cowboys. His words, not mine. Stay safe.

    Tom McMann

    August 21, 2009
    Try this comparison on for size. NATE has only one major tower company as a member - American Tower Corporation. PCIA has all of them.

    NATE says joining their organization and getting involved will help improve worker safety. That will require projects to be able to be profitable enough to maintain those safety requirements.

    Joining PCIA and getting involved will help to ensure that legislators will not impede the growth of tower companies. It will also help to find other solutions that will improve the tower owner's bottom line.

    Is safety a low priority with them because it would affect their members' earnings?

    Next month's PCIA show has a presentation entitled: Is There Green in "Green"?: Ecological Infrastructure Initiatives. It would be nice to some day see one such as: Is There Green In Safety?

    If they spent a little time exploring it, they'd be surprised that there can be if you can cut down on workplace injuries and fatalities.

    Thank you for the excellent article.

    Carole Edwards

    August 21, 2009
    You should write an article or do research on the number of tower workers that were seriously injured on the job.

    I'm sure a lot of us can help you with those details because we worked with them before their accident.

    You would be surprised at the huge amount of accidents that go on in this business that never make the news.

    Insurance companies would rather have you die instead of having to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars for long term treatment of injuries.

    You can spin it any way you want, but whether you are a tower company, a cell carrier or an insurance company, it's always about the money first?not the worker.


    August 21, 2009
    Thank you Patrick for bringing up an interesting point. I'm sure not on purpose, but you have left out the tower owners that do not have to pay for any fatalities or injuries, not just the carriers.

    Between waivers of subrogation and all of the other indemnification clauses designed to minimize exposure that you must deal with, they do not have to worry about what happens on their property and can easily turn a blind eye.

    Their attorneys know how to shield their company from any exposure and they have it down to a science. Let's give them an A for corporate responsibility and an F for their lack of compassion about telecom worker deaths and traumatic injuries that continue to occur on their properties.

    Gary Garfield

    August 21, 2009
    It would be interesting if you could do a study to see how tower technicians in the United States compare to the those in England and other countries that have less accidents.

    Are they on the road for months at a time? Do they have a more stable family life? Are they less or more prone to use drugs or drink heavily? Are salaries in line with each other?

    It might prove to provide some interesting results that could be analyzed.

    Rich Holub
  5. Wireless Estimator

    Wireless Estimator Administrator Staff Member

    February 12, 2010
    There has only been one this year so far, but if you look anywhere else in the world you won't find another, or at least I haven't seen any and I scour the internet for any tower news that's out there. There will be those people who say that there are fatalities, but they're just not reported.

    That's the catch phrase of people that don't want to admit that maybe the U.S. has an endemic problem that needs to be addressed.

    Walter Carillion

    November 1, 2009
    What part of there's no work and no pressure to get it done that people don't understand? As soon as the end of the year pressures hit you'll surely see more deaths in the US.

    Name withheld upon request

    October 6, 2009
    Keep up the great safety, folks. It's been a while and there have been no fatalities both in the US and abroad. Could it be that it's finally sinking home?

    Jason Ventire

    September 10, 2009
    You make some interesting points, Mr. Landa, and you say that the validity of a statement should be based on facts.

    Then you go ahead and state that there is only a "miniscule" possibility of equipment failure causing workers to die.

    The wife of one of the three climbers that died this year swears that it was equipment failure.

    I don't have the OSHA report and I don't know if you have it, but if she is correct, then one-third of all deaths this year came about due to equipment failure.

    Then miniscule becomes 33%. I'll stick with the old math.

    David Graines

    September 9, 2009
    The validity of a statement is not confirmed by the volume at which it is made, by the number of times it is repeated or by the social or political position of the articulator. The validity of a statement is based on facts, scientific methodology, logic and sound theory; none of characteristics apply to Secretary Faulke's statement.

    What you failed to mention in your article is that Faulke's statistical representation of industry fatalities is based on your data. There was no third party or independent study conducted by OSHA or the Bureau of Labor to substantiate that conclusion. Had that fact been relayed to your readers they might be less inclined to give Secretary Faulke's representation credence; or at a minimum readers could have weighted the information with that bias in mind.

    Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code system is used by Federal agencies to classify workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, or disseminating data the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is used in classifying business establishments; SOC people, NAICS companies.

    If the BLS methodology were properly applied to tower climbers the first problem a statistician would encounter is Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code assignment. If you look at SOC codes for Construction; 47-0000 Construction and Extraction Occupations ( you will NOT find any corresponding code for tower climbers, erectors or anything close. Without a SOC code the BLS is unable to collect the required data, population, accidents and fatalities.

    NAICS code 237130 "Power and Communication Line and Related Structures Construction" is the code tower contractors should be using if they're primarily in the business of erecting towers.The problem with using only NAICS codes to calculate fatality rates is there may by dozens of employees in a company classified as 237130, many employees will have different SOC codes, so it may not be completely accurate to use NAICS code in place of SOC codes without knowing the make up of, or structure of the company.

    The crux of the problem in measuring non-homogenous populations is, what data will be included, what data will be excluded and why. Some of the data included recently has included homogenous data. When a data guy 515xxx or 517xxx falls while installing an antenna will include that individual in the fatality data they track. Then when calculating the fatality rate they simply ignore the 515xxx or 517xxx SOC population and use 9,800.

    From the perspective of logic the data guy is not or most likely is not a tower climber, I mean they don't do work at elevation during the normal course of the days businesses. So explain to me again why you treat elevated workers as a homogeneous population, yet include the data guy or the broadcast guy and any other guy who falls from elevation into the "tower climber" fatality group without adding that population to the 9,800 prior to doing the math?

    In the grand scheme of things, the fatality rate is not as important as determining what causes fatalities. My research and the research of others have shown that two thirds of all deaths are the result of individual risky behavior. All this talk about unreasonable deadlines and small margins contributing to poor safety is, like training and drugs, a distraction from the serious discussion of safety and serves no useful purpose.

    Those things that modify behavior, focusing on solid and comprehensive personnel policies will improve safety outcomes. Here, small businesses may be impacted disproportionately because of the need to bring on additional personnel on short notice. This fact must be considered when bidding for work but should not be used as an excuse.

    In as much as people in a 100% tie off condition do not fall from towers and die (with the exception of the minuscule possibility of equipment failure) we can state with certainty that fatalities are a result of not being 100% tied off. The failure to tie off and maintain 100% tie off is a behavior problem not training problem. If aerial workers are all trained, in house or third party, to the minimum requirements laid out in OSHA regulations then further training is pointless regardless of what anyone says. If research indicates that level of training needs to be increased then change the rules but stop talking about training if your company sells training.

    For the record, for an event to be considered the cause of a second event, two conditions must be met; first, one event must precede the other and second, there must be no other logical reason for the event to occur. While construction practices and margins may precede fatalities there are numerous other logical reason for fatalities to occur.

    Events such as hazard exposure and risky behavior have been shown to be cause fatalities. Craig suggests, or at least implies unreasonable deadlines and small margins may contribute to poor safety. While it is true that tower industry resembles an onion with all the sub-sub-sub-contractors, deadlines developed by office pog's and profit margins resembling public welfare, none of these factors have anything to do with safety.

    If a company wants a safe working environment for their employees they develop and enforce workplace practices that reflect that desire. Everyone from the CEO to the supply chief and project manager focus on safety, climbers or any other employee for that matter fail to follow established practices are fined, furloughed or fired depending on the severity of the infraction. If an employee in a position of authority fails to enforce, does not correct or does not report infractions then they are fined, furloughed or fired.

    For those carriers and national contractors who demand unreasonable results, I would suggest you tell them to find someone else, I'm not going to come out and play except on my own terms. Someone will pipe-up with "That's easy for you to say!" to which I would respond that I've done it and yes, it cost me my entire business but I don't play games with my employee health and well being.

    The bottom line is any outcome of any job is an inanimate object, a radio, getting on the air, while an animate object, a tower climber, gets in his car and goes home to his family. Climber 1, radio 0.

    Michael S. Landa

    Editor's Note:
    Company managers, owners and safety consultants stated that unreasonable deadlines and small margins may contribute to poor safety, not the author.

    We agree that it is difficult to apply BLS methodology to tower climbing technicians or other professions. That might change if Dr. David Michaels is appointed as our new OSHA chief.

    In testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety in 2007, Michaels called for better methodologies for reporting workplace accidents, testifying that only one-third of occupational illnesses and injuries are reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    One could presume that if they have such a dismal record, fatality and other recordkeeping by the BLS might be equally askew.

    Prior to making the statement about the ranking of the industry, Assistant Secretary Edwin Foulke, Jr. conferred with his management team following their review of information provided by

    They were aware that previously inflated fatality counts published under the administration of former Assistant Secretary John Henshaw, as well as those estimated by the National Institute of Safety and Health, were not accurate and no credible estimate of the number of industry climbers had ever been assessed.

    There is no desire on our part or the tower community to want to stand out as the most dangerous profession in America, or the second most or the 200th.

    However, in order to focus upon what is causing these fatalities and how they can be prevented, it's necessary to agree that they are occurring too frequently, and during some years, at an alarming rate.
  6. Michael Landa

    Michael Landa Friend of the Community

    September 10, 2009 David Graines comments


    I never use the word ?miniscule? it is neither accurate nor statistically descriptive. When someone, anyone blames equipment failure I like to refer back to J. Nigel Ellis? book Introduction To Fall Protection. Go to page 39 and you will note the following statistics.

    Failure to provide or use fall protection 80%
    Failure to train properly 10%
    Belts with make-shift grommet holes 5%
    Lanyard/snaphooks failure 5%
    Harness failure no reported cases

    If I ever described equipment failure it would have been in terms of the aforementioned data. A 5 percent probability of equipment failure is small compared to failure to provide or use fall protection equipment. It is important to remember Ellis data has been collected over 30 years so it does not represent a snapshot; Ellis is a P.E., CPS and a CPE so his qualifications are excellent.

    You are welcome to stick to the old math, but please provide your sources as I provide mine so I can verify, as you like to say but spend a couple of dollars and file a freedom of information request with OSHA and get a copy of your referenced wife?s accident narrative, let me know what you find. Somewhere in the narrative should say equipment failure, bent snaphook, torn something or another similar. When an accident report states definitively equipment failure, then you call me a liar.

    Michael S. Landa

    Ellis, J. N. (2001). Introduction to fall protection. 3rd Ed, American Society of Safety Engineers, Des Plains, IL.

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