Tower Worker's Safety

Discussion in 'Incident and Near Miss Discussions' started by Richard Bell, Jan 21, 2009.

  1. Richard Bell

    Richard Bell Friend of the Community

    Subject: Safety

    I have been reviewing the photos and videos on the "Hall of Shame" and decided to offer my comments.

    I have been in this business over 50 years and have been a member of the Ironworkers for over 43 years. Over 20 of those years were spent working in the gang when we built hundreds of the AT&T long line self-supporters where we wore absolutely no safety equipment.

    No ironworkers that I ever worked with during this era wore any safety equipment. Only one person that I am aware of ever fell from one of the AT&T towers, Rob Hale, and the reason he fell was because he wrapped a lanyard around a handrail that was not bolted up on one end. He fell out backwards and hit the horizontal load line that broke his fall. He was still seriously injured, but he survived and continues to work in this industry.

    I believe the reason for our good fortune during this era was due to three things that have changed from that time to present day tower work. The first and most important is tower design.

    If you ever worked on an AT&T tower, you understand that they were easy to climb on. When you bolted up panels of bracing, they were spaced 5' apart on the columns, which gave you a brace to stand on while bolting up the next point, then you climbed to that level and bolted up the next one.

    Today?s bracing patterns are usually about 10 feet apart, and more often than not, they have a one bolt connection. The tower designers back then took construction into consideration when they designed the towers. The tower designer even assisted in designing the rigging and procedure for construction.

    The telephone company required that the site be finished with crushed rock prior to iron being delivered and we had a full time inspector on site with every crew while the construction was ongoing.

    The second change was that there was not the availability of illicit drugs there is today. Third, the telephone company required every tower contractor to have union affiliation and use ironworkers. The hands I worked with were professionals. They had their own tools and transportation,,,and they had drivers licenses and credit cards. Most had gone through the apprenticeship programs and although many had never worked on a tower, they were savvy enough to learn it quickly and they understood the basics of rigging and using their tools.

    Today, when I hire a new hand, I have to send them money to get to the job. Sometimes they show up, sometimes they don't, but never with tools and/or safety equipment. Most have experience laying carpet, or flipping burgers or trimming trees. They claim to have tower experience, which some do, but overall, they are just trying this job out to see if they can make some easy money. Very few show up with their own transportation and none have drivers licenses, much less credit cards.

    The NATE organization has accomplished a lot in the industry. They have gained enough recognition to initiate some sort of licensing requirement for the individual hands that would certify them as qualified tower hands. There should be a required pay scale for qualified men that would be enough for them to consider tower building a permanent career, not just another stopping point looking for easy money. A statement made on the "Tower Dogs" debacle said that tower hands make as much as $14.00 per hour.

    NATE could be instrumental in requiring the cell tower manufacturers to take construction into consideration during the tower design stages. For instance, what would be the additional cost for the cell company to install a man rated platform under the cell antennas for the worker to stand on while working on the antenna as compared to hanging underneath in a lanyard swinging around while trying to work.

    Statistically, if you had access to the numbers, I would guarantee that Pirod has had fewer fall accidents from their self-supporters than all the other self supporter manufacturers combined. And look at the incidence of fall accidents from Monopoles as compared to other towers. How many deaths have been caused by "step bolts", where the worker's hook slips off of the end. Step bolts should be outlawed! The only reason they are in use is because they are cheap.

    I am not criticizing the NATE organization in this writing, because there are some very capable men in that group. I think the organization has realized enough recognition in the industry to make a difference in the areas where change is needed the most, and under most conditions, I don't think that is the 100% tie-off rule. However, with some of the hands I have watched work, a 200% tie off rule would be appropriate.


    Richard Bell
  2. Johnny  Myers

    Johnny Myers Friend of the Community

    Mr. Bell,
    I am 38 years young and have just accepted a position climbing towers again after being out for 10 years, I really went there hoping to get advise on starting my own Tower Service. Of course with the economy the way it is, I don't really feel any start up is a great idea right now, I could be wrong. I have approximately 4 years climbing experience, and 6 Ironworking, no union experience as I am from the south and unions are unheard of for the most part here. I hired on relatively low pay scale in my opinion but I do get paid footage. What I am looking for is any advise on starting my tower service. I would prefer to start with relamps, painting, inspections, and maybe some antennae and line work. Please reply if we can talk, I need a good seasoned veterans help.

  3. Steve Jones

    Steve Jones Friend of the Community

    Mr. Bell,

    Thank you for bringing up these topics.

    Despite the recession, our company has been able to continue growth due to several major carriers' 3G and 4G upgrades. The demand and accelerated scheduling from these carriers has caused us to revert back to hiring "experienced" climbers instead of hiring and training "green" climbers. Along the same lines as your comment above, a high percentage of these experienced individuals have severe money management issues, no transportation, bad driving records or no drivers licenses at all.

    Very few experienced individuals have made it more than 3 months before child support enforcement catches up with them, then they disappear to be picked up by another tower contractor down the road. They have bad habits, especially in the area of safety, that we must spend inordinate amounts of time correcting.

    I believe the main issue is time allotted for training. With the fast pace of this industry, it's very difficult to stop production in order to do what we must to ensure 1. SAFETY and 2. Quality. So many customers threaten to give work to other contractors if responsible companies attempt to delay productivity in the name of training. I believe the major carriers should be forced to make allowances for this.

    The other issue is antenna mounts. In particular, "T-Booms/Candelabra/Cobra" mounts. These are often used by carriers as a cheap substitute for safer types, like gate booms. Some local markets have made additions like panels that hang below for the climbers to stand upon while working. In our opinion, these unsafe antenna mounts should be outlawed or must only be mounted at heights accessible by man lifts or crane-mounted baskets.

    Thank you

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