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NIOSH Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program

 Tower Hand Dies After 230-Foot Fall From Communications
Tower in North Carolina

NIOSH In-House FACE Report
FACE 99-01
Summary  Investigation Recommendations and Discussion
Introduction Cause of Death References

 FACE Index

 Add Your Analysis

Summary   (top)

A 40-year-old male tower hand (the victim) died after falling 230 feet from a 250-foot communications tower. The victim was a member of a four-man crew which was installing a new phone service on the tower. Two tower hands, one of whom was the company owner, were at the base of the tower while the victim was on the north side of the tower connecting co-axial cable to an antenna arm 230 feet above the ground. A co-worker was working with his back toward the victim at the same height and approximately 6 feet to the victim's right, performing another task. The NIOSH FACE victim had completed his task on the antenna and may have unhooked his positioning equipment in order to move south (right) toward the tower leg where the safety-climb device/system was located, when he fell. Co-workers did not see what the victim was doing at the time of the fall. They heard a sound, which may have been the metal hook from the victim's positioning equipment hitting the tower. Within seconds they saw the victim's body strike boxes on the ground and then come to rest on the ground. Crew members at the base of the tower called for emergency medical services (EMS). EMS and sheriff's department personnel responded within 10 minutes of the call. Due to the extent of injuries, no first aid or CPR was initiated. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

NIOSH investigators concluded that, to prevent similar occurrences, employers should:

  • provide workers with a 100% fall-protection system compatible with the tasks to be performed, instruct employees in the proper use of the system and equipment, and ensure their use

  • provide workers with a proper work-positioning system, instruct workers in the proper use and limitations of the system, and ensure its use

  • develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive written safety program which includes, but is not limited to, a commitment to 100% tie-off and written procedures for employees to implement 100% fall protection.

Additionally, manufacturers of tower components and tower owners:

  • should consider installing fall-protection fixtures on tower components during fabrication or erection that would facilitate the use of fall-protection systems. 

Introduction  (top)FACE1

On November 13, 1998, a 40-year-old male tower hand (the victim) died after falling 230 feet from a 250-foot communications tower. Officials of the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration (NCOSHA) notified the Division of Safety Research (DSR) of this fatality. DSR offered technical assistance and on December 15, 1998, a safety specialist from DSR conducted an investigation of the incident. The incident was reviewed with the NCOSHA compliance officer assigned to the case, the tower-owner representative, and the county sheriff and coroner offices. The site was visited and photographs were obtained during the investigation.

The employer was a cable-installation service that had been in operation for 1 year. The company owner and three permanent employees worked together, referring to themselves as tower hands. The company had no written safety policy or safety program, but the owner held a safety meeting with the crew each morning before work began to discuss the job and to check personal protective equipment. The victim had worked as a tower hand for 20 years and was an experienced climber. He had worked for the employer for 1 year and had been on the job site with the rest of the crew for 5 days when the incident occurred. This was the first fatality experienced by the employer.

Investigation  (top)

The employer had been contracted by a telecommunications company to install 12 new antennae and run new co-axial cable to a location 230-feet high on a three-legged cellular phone tower which had been completed in August, 1998. The crew consisted of the company owner and three tower hands. All four were experienced climbers. The work was to be completed in four stages. They began their work on Monday and by Tuesday had assembled 12 antennae on the ground. On Wednesday they rigged the tower to lift the antennae and cable in place. In order to rig the tower, two of the men, each in full body-harness, hooked onto the safety climb device/system located on the south tower leg and climbed to 237 feet where they hung the hoisting block. On Thursday two men worked on the ground hoisting the cable, while two men worked on the tower installing the antennae and securing the cable.

On Friday, the day of the incident, the 4-man crew began work at 6:30 a.m. They met to discuss the job and to inspect the climbing equipment of each climber as they had done each day before climbing the tower. The victim was wearing a full-body harness with a saddle belt and carried three 6-foot nylon-rope lanyards.

When it was light, at approximately 6:50 a.m., the victim and a co-worker climbed the south leg of the tower. Each in turned used the safety-climb device pictured or attached his own cable grab to the safety-climb system to climb the tower leg and reach the area 230 feet up (figure 1). The remaining two tower legs were not equipped with a safety-climb device/system. This was the first climb for the victim on this job. He had worked on the ground the first 4 days. It took the men approximately 30 to 35 minutes to climb the tower. They rested at regular intervals during their ascent. After each worker stepped off the safety-climb system, they free-climbed (moved on the tower without fall protection) to the location of their work. According to the victim's co-worker, they used positioning lanyards to secure themselves while they were working on their cable-installation tasks. They worked for approximately 6 hours, taking periodic breaks to eat, drink, and rest.

At approximately 1:15 p.m., the owner radioed up to the men telling them to come down for lunch. Minutes later, the victim, who had completed securing co-axial cable to the antenna, fell from the tower. He fell 230 feet and landed first on boxes located 10 feet away from the tower structure and then on the gravel. See figure 2 for the victim's work position just prior to his fall. The co-worker was working with his back to the victim at the time of the incident and therefore did not see what happened just prior to the fall. Crew members at the base of the tower called for emergency medical services (EMS). EMS and sheriff's department personnel responded within 10 minutes of the call. Due to the extent of the injuries no first aid or CPR was initiated and the victim was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:30 p.m.

The equipment the victim was wearing when he fell was photographed by sheriff's department personnel. The equipment was inspected and the photographs reviewed during the course of the investigation. The victim had been wearing a lineman's full-body harness and had three 6-foot lanyards with him. Each lanyard was made of ½-inch nominal three-strand nylon rope and had connectors on each end with 1-inch openings. One of the lanyards had been altered to make it function as a makeshift work-positioning device. A ladder hook with a 1¼-inch throat opening had been looped through the center of the lanyard and one of the connectors at the end of the lanyard was damaged and could not be opened.

Measurements of the tower were obtained from the manufacturer. The tower involved is a three-legged, self-supporting tower. At the base of the tower, the solid round legs measure 3¾-inches in diameter and are set in concrete pads. The diagonal tower components (angle iron) measured 3½ by 3½ by ¼-inch at the base. The grits, which are horizontal angle iron members, measured 2½ by 2½ by ¼-inch at the base. The tower is built in sections and at higher levels the components used are smaller. The distance between members decreases as well. At the level where the victim was working, the solid round tower legs measured 2 ¼-inches in diameter and were approximately 5 feet apart and the diagonal angle iron measured 2 by 2 by 3/16-inches. The horizontal members cease at the 200-foot level. According to the co-worker, the connectors on the lanyards used by the victim were not large enough to fit around the angle iron or the tower legs. Measurements taken of the connectors used by the victim support this statement as his ladder hook had a 1¼-inch throat opening and the connectors at the ends of his lanyards had 1-inch openings. The worker did not carry a tie-off adapter with which to establish a means to tie-off.

Cause of Death  (top)

The coroner listed the cause of death as massive head injury due to fall from cellular tower.

Recommendations and Discussion  (top)

Recommendation #1: Employers should provide employees with a 100% fall protection system compatible with the work being performed, instruct employees in the proper use of the system and equipment, and ensure their use.

Discussion: In this incident, the employee was not using a personal fall-arrest system and no other fall-protection system was in place to protect him as he moved on the tower. Employers should provide employees with a 100% fall- protection system compatible with the tasks being performed, instruct workers in the proper use of the system and equipment, and ensure its use.

Fall-protection is defined as follows: Employees at risk of falling from work levels over 6 feet above the ground or working surface must be protected by some conventional means of fall protection, which may include an integral fall-arrest systemcs ovaSupplans tr ascdrkingde ascdrkinge mbeingon ior-tgon i,ed orpany othee tower constructiod or altdiation worktectalitR conductedtas ank ltiaten worstigation. Employers shoula-Alsr Requish as imumse of threngon i e/conta (g twr hanrd and on0-foon or tw0 feet and onr ha)edtascellimeays whee employeed are mbeind on the towee.

Fal- protectio">for tower wor ovmefor Meilyld providys when the employethis stntiorylt and n a tie-offtnd one location on the structu. W whee employeed arr Requider to mov"/abond on the tow,ny othel means of fall protectied arr Recommeeund, whicce an incluam, buawere not limited too the follbei:e. suppthe lanyard wite connectors an each ent large enough td complelyle inrcmale towel memberh th which Theawers to br attached (tsent large connectorh mar Requish y speciIn ordet from r fall-protectioe equipmene manufacturer as tch throat openine must bt large enough te inrcmale the memb)od or suppthe lanyars made orei enfordng fabr>). The i enfordns lanyardce at bt loopet around the towel membll. The connectim at theernominae end oe Each lanyarthisnapoopet around thh lanyartt, seim. Eace of tsensuppthe lanyasHA haa Yhe c">figaection, with the end of thYbr attacheg to thD-rdoing at the centes bac(dctoonal-positi)nd of the employan's full-body harnell. The connectim at the end oe Eacf workeh lanyarthiwireasaged ane moved ase aallime,er as tce workee mosed on the towercs ovm day le theFrosf Meitibl" metho">fof fall protecties whee mbeine horizontlyld on the towerW when tryethio an ce hngon i t above the work'sve he,th a proplyer instaaged ans usereontra cabllifideliod oreontra cabll lanyars yto be considened.

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Tho firsa pers g doind up the tower iwhage ttrrest risdsen t are hastweed nAdvercntolifidelioo establirred.ond ensura 100% fall protectiod during the initlir asce,io an ce hnr hooce at bd used to establisystpororylt ce hngon iell. Thn ce hnr hoor iwhattacheg ty a tescopbeingoable t, whichllifideliod oreontra cabll lanyarr iwhattach>). The ontra cabll lanyare extdsce betweeo thD-rdoins in th="middcooff the harness bacaound the ce hnr ho. Ifchllifideliothis us,naon rope grab gravsed on thn rope anr iwhattacheg tt the centeD-rdoind of the harness ba>). The otheenhar attacwasond the ce hnr ho. W when the employee mosef the ho, The musalw dayo br attachet to tha structu. Otanc The ttacwap the plooff the structur the secuwap thlifidelioe to an ce hngon i t and n a wher usp thlifidelio, and rope gra">fofuucture clis>). tie-off adaoyers shoulbeas Isssed to each employee tofollsp tmch to establish an ce hanagd on the towee.

>Recommendation2#1: Employers should provide workers with a proper work-positioning system, instruct workers in the proper use and limitations of the system, and ensure its uee.h5/p>

DiscussionAer work-positioning systrthiwiRequideifchle workee must br hels in placs whils ovy hanrdreey frle t, work. According tNCOSHCFR 1926.500(b)th a-positioning deving systrthis defined as follows"A a-positioning deving systrl meana's bode belorvl-body harnesy rigged tofollsanch employee tt bm suppoaged os ank ltiateAdvercntog surfa,og chon as w fa,or and work witbothvy hanry frls whiliclarnin"s. The systrt includto an ce hngon i,naoe belorve harness ang e conneoning deviceW work-positioning systseawers to bd useonpy ">for thl assistanc">foh which Theawerr-desius,nh Thee musd not bwiriioed s on ad providf fall-arre.n: In this incident, the employee was not equipped with a proper work-positioning syst.s. The systre the victim wat usins to ted onto the tower consisted oaof ½-inch nylon-rope lanyaed with r connectit loopeing to the center of the lanyard and connectors on each e.E) Propeg systser Requisd thy fale connectors on thr work-positionine equipmenbeas instaagea proplyem at the time oe manufactued androhibe itt looninn-ropd through theyuse oh e connectimsim was ners in this incidees. The zone of the connectore must bm compatible with thl memberh th which Thee must bm conneches angfale connectore must binor workinc Conditier. Employers should providh a prope, andffotectivr work-positioning systemd ensure its upe anryinfoor employees thy k-positioning systranyla,odoewas nod providt 100% fall protection.


>Recommendation3#1: Employers shoul">develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive written safety program which includo, a commitment to 100% t e-off and written procedures to implement 100% fall protection.h5/p>

Discussion. The Evaluatioe of tasks to be performem at thn wors siterfosin ths sires fo">devellemento implemeaection, and enforipment oaen safety progr. KTheelurements og chonty progras shouln incluamwhams imum,ry fquident ant regular inspeation of thn wors sitS and shouln incluod prosation">forremainint employees ihaznyarrcideeficaection,voidstance anabstatemeds. The comprehensivn safety prograd shouln incluo


>Recommendatio4: M manufacturers of tower components and tower owne ">should consider installing fall-protection fixtures on tower components during fabrication or erection that would facilitate the use of fall protection.h5/p>


figure. l Safety-climb device/syst s on tower led in t r ground. Thnrrownindicaeuwap the approximahe location of the vict">
figur2. V victim's wobeingopositio ovm worked with atarl">
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