Employer of inexperienced 1099 tower tech who died Saturday was laden with OSHA violations

In Featured News by Wireless Estimator

Multiple techs were erecting sections with a crane when the fatality occurred

Multiple techs were erecting sections with a crane when the fatality occurred

Neither OSHA nor Oktibbeha County authorities have released the employer’s name of 43-year-old John Wayne Womack of Mountain View, Arkansas who passed away on Saturday after falling from a 348-foot self-supporting tower that was being erected in Longview, Mississippi, but according to knowledgeable sources, the company was Pegasus Tower, Inc., an OSHA citation-laden company from Calico Rock, Arkansas.


Pegasus was erecting the tower for Flinn Broadcasting Corporation of Memphis, Tennessee. Flinn which owns approximately 60 towers has not responded to a request for additional information.


Although Mississippi OSHA is investigating according to authorities, a spokesperson for the Jackson office said that they could not provide any information regarding the incident and would not identify why an activity number has not been assigned as of Thursday afternoon, a procedure that is typically done immediately following a fatality. 


Likely, OSHA has already identified that Pegasus has been cited by the agency multiple times, beginning with an inspection of the company on January 18, 2001, when they were erecting a 1,067-foot tower in Akron, Ohio.


The inspection resulted in five serious citations a willful citation and one other-than-serious citation for a total penalty of $24,600. An administrative law judge characterized the alleged willful violation as serious and assessed a total penalty of $16,500. It was protested and the penalty was further reduced by an OSHA Review Commission to $13,700 on July 13, 2005.


Violations included riding the hoist line and failing to provide employees with adequate personal fall protection equipment. Pegasus was not represented by counsel but raised general objections to the judge’s decision.


On June 14, 2004, while Pegasus was erecting an NBC 1,300-foot guyed tower in Madison, Wisconsin, an OSHA inspector again found violations affecting worker safety. One of them was again riding the hoist line. The company was also cited for using a gin pole that was not designed by a registered engineer and did not have a load chart.


In their next OSHA Review Commission hearing where Pegasus again represented itself, the company said that their 30-year-old gin pole was safe because they had previously tested the gin pole to 20,000 pounds, by picking a load of approximately 20,000 pounds on a fully built 1,000 foot-tower and letting it sit suspended two or three feet off the ground overnight.


OSHRC Judge James H. Barkley didn’t buy their testing method as an alternative for an engineered pole.


They did, however, beat another citation regarding the need for ladders when they were cited when the inspector observed an employee climbing a 16-foot tree to free a tag line and then jumping 5-to-6 feet to another tree limb to untangle the line.


Another violation that stuck was for an employee not wearing a protective hard hat.


The company’s owner, Brad Broadus refused to wear a hard hat during the OSHA inspection, stating that, as the owner of the company, the OSHA standards did not apply to him. 


Judge Barkly disagreed, noting: “As the stated purpose of the Act is ‘. . . to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthful working conditions. . .’, it has been long accepted that owners, family members, and corporate officers are “employees” for purposes of the Act while performing work for the employer.”


For three serious citations, Pegasus was fined $3,000.


First injury citation involved a 1099 employee without insurance coverage

Following a July 17, 2013 accident, Pegasus was given its first citations as a result of an inspection following an injury.


According to OSHA records, tower tech Todd Hansel was a crew member erecting a cell tower in rural Dike, Iowa. He had secured the harness of his personal fall arrest system to a ladder section he was standing on. The section became dislodged from the tower and fell to ground level with the worker still on it, OSHA said.


Hansel fell approximately 50 feet. Emergency services were called, and he was transported by air ambulance to a regional medical care center, he was admitted and underwent surgery for a fractured foot and ankle.


Although OSHA did not provide details, Pegasus was given a serious citation for violating a safety belts, lifelines and lanyards standard and fined $2,500.


The company was also cited for not following a standard for safety training and education and received a serious violation fine for $2,500. OSHA later reduced both fines to a total of $2,500 and closed the case on May 9, 2016.


The incident site address of provided by OSHA is close to a 260-foot self-supporting tower erected the week of the incident for TV-6 of Memphis, Tennessee, according to the FCC’s database. It was acquired two years later by SBA Communications.


According to an article in AGL Media Group, Hansel was an experienced tower tech, having previously worked for MUTI and Capital Tower & Communications, was hired by Pegasus as a 1099 contractor two weeks before the accident. 


He informed AGL he was wearing a harness but was given only one lanyard by Pegasus, so his only tie-off point was to the ladder. He had no insurance coverage and was not covered by Pegasus’ workers compensation policy and incurred over $200,000 in hospital bills.


According to Womack’s father, Wayne Dykes, his son had only been working in the industry for approximately six months, and he did not know if he had received any climber certification training from Pegasus.


Womack, a former pipefitter, was hired by Pegasus and signed a statement that he was a 1099 contractor and would therefore not be covered by the company’s worker’s compensation policy, according to Dykes.


It is not known if any other Pegasus employees on the crew, at least two of the owner’s sons, were covered as well.


According to the Mississippi Workers Compensation Commission, Pegasus does not have coverage. Also, the company does not have coverage in Arkansas. The state does identify that it did have coverage from November 25, 2013, and allowed it to expire on November 25, 2015. The coverage at that time, however, was for the sole proprietor, Brad Broadus.


The Arkansas Secretary of State identifies that the Pegasus was incorporated in 2003 and its status has been revoked.


Wireless Estimator attempted to communicate with Pegasus, but was unable to locate any contact information for the company. One internet phone number frequently found has been disconnected.

The Tower Family Foundation and the Hubble Foundation are assisting Womack’s family members.