Alabama state agency is saddened by a tower tech’s death, but it appears that they caused it

In Featured News by Wireless Estimator


Alabama communications technician Brett Savage died last year, and OSHA wasn’t required to investigate the accident that was clearly caused by his employer, the Alabama Forestry Commission

Some of the Alabama Forestry Commission’s (AFC) key roles are to protect wildlife, such as inventorying gopher tortoise burrows to improve their habitat. However, its overriding mission is to protect forests from harm.

Unfortunately, the state agency failed miserably to protect a Deatsville AFC communications technician last year. As a result, Brett Savage died when a guyed tower that was being decommissioned fell on him, causing his death. His wife and their five children survive him.

State Forester Rick Oates, who leads the AFC, released a statement following the July 6, 2022, death of Savage, stating, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and loved ones of Brett. All of us at the Alabama Forestry Commission are terribly saddened by his loss.”

He said he had no additional information to provide while the incident was being investigated.

On July 11, 2022, OSHA informed Wireless Estimator that the agency was investigating the fatality.

OSHA gives a pass to the state agency

When the fatality was not available in OSHA’s database with an inspection number, and it had been over six months – the period that the agency has to cite an employer — Wireless Estimator was informed by an OSHA spokesperson that the agency had looked into the fatality, but wasn’t going to investigate it “…since a contractor did not employ him (Savage).”

Oates confirmed that to a family member, writing, “Because we are a state agency, OSHA had no jurisdiction over this accident. To the best of our knowledge, they did not do an investigation. They initially inquired about what happened, but once they determined that we are a state agency and no contractors were involved, we believe they dropped the matter.”

OSHA neither investigated nor did Oates’s agency, relying solely upon a Washington County Sheriff’s Office investigation report, that Oates said, “the only real conclusion they came to was that this was indeed an accident.”

To save money or time, a qualified contractor wasn’t used

It wasn’t an accident, but rather an incident that should have never occurred if AFC had hired a competent contractor or had on-staff qualified personnel.

The AFC operates and maintains two complete radio systems using approximately 200 tower sites for routine communications, fire prevention, and suppression operations.

According to unverified information obtained by Wireless Estimator, AFC was leasing land for one of their 300-foot guyed towers, and the landowner wanted it removed from his property.

Instead of hiring a qualified contractor to remove it, a communications supervisor and a division director with little or no communications background, along with Savage, attempted to collapse the tower.

It is unknown who directed the decommissioning, but it wasn’t Savage, who had only been employed with the AFC for three months.

A guy wire was cut, and the tower collapsed on Savage, killing him instantly.

They got away with killing somebody

According to Jocko Vermillion, Vice President of safety training and consulting company CITCA and a former OSHA investigator as the agency’s tower and wireless construction expert, OSHA will not investigate a state agency.

He said that it could be done, but only an investigation could be made, and the agency cannot cite the Alabama Forestry Commission for violations and levy fines.

“From your information, it is sad that this wasn’t thoroughly investigated. For example, they didn’t have training. Furthermore, an investigation could prevent this from happening in the future,” Vermillion said.

“It’s tragic,” explained Vermillion, who said he has seen similar incidents throughout his career with OSHA where the federal agency gives a pass to a state agency. “They got away with killing somebody.”

A safety professional of one of the nation’s largest contractors, requesting anonymity, said, “There’s an abundance of political rhetoric today where the popular phrase is, ‘No one is above the law,’ that is unless you are a state agency, then OSHA’s regulations do not apply. I’m aware of many similar instances where workers were seriously injured or died during my 15 years as a safety manager. The Department of Labor needs to address this abuse.”

Neither Oates nor the Washington County Sheriff’s Office responded to additional information requests.