April 30, 2015 — Wireless networks are expanding at an amazing rate, and the critical information needs of the United States are being met like never before, FCC Comm. Mignon Clyburn told an audience at the Wireless Infrastructure Show in Hollywood, Florida, yesterday. Yet she said that we must never lose sight of those who build those networks and the dangers that they face. To that end, she spoke of the need to bring the tower worker fatality rate down to zero and the possible regulation to make that happen.
The commissioner said bringing the rate to zero will require 100 per cent of the effort from 100 percent of wireless industry participants to build the necessary safety systems. “From wireless companies, service providers and tower companies, we need 100 percent of the power and 100 percent of the tools to achieve 100 percent safety,” she said. “New and innovative tools for identifying specific risks need to be further developed.”
The commissioner said the workers often are young people, sometimes relatively inexperienced. Others may not be represented by unions, she said, “so collectively, we have a special responsibility when it comes to their safety. According to some reports, the fatality rate for tower climbers is as high as 10 times the rate of the general construction industry.”
Clyburn said she is aware of the toll tower work has taken, particularly in her home state of South Carolina. In June 2007, a 30-year-old tower technician fell 140 feet from a tower in Bluffton. In the same month, a technician fell 170 feet from a tower in Summerville. “One tower worker fatality is one too many,” she said. “Our goal should be that no more families should have to suffer.”
One possible remedy, according to Clyburn, is a sign-before-you-climb approach that assesses climber-specific and job-specific risks at each job site in advance and on the day of the job before any worker even climbs a tower. She said it may be necessary to rethink the safety provision in the contracts between wireless companies and service vendors.
“All regulatory options should be on the table,” she said. “Let us continue to have conversations about how these and other initiatives can further our common objectives of building, deploying and continuing to provide the critical infrastructure our nation needs.”
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.