April 16, 2015 — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is asking the tower industry for information about safety hazards in tower construction and maintenance to assist the agency in determining what measures are needed to prevent worker injuries and fatalities.
“NATE has worked closely with OSHA over the years educating them on the unique nuances of this industry,” said Todd Schlekeway, executive director, National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE). “It is not general construction. There are so many challenges to constructing and maintaining communications towers. This is another opportunity for the industry to continue that process of education.”
PCIA — the Wireless Infrastructure Association has made workforce safety a priority and has engaged with the Department of Labor and Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program in working to find ways to ensure that workers are better equipped to perform under safe conditions.
“We want to help create the wireless workforce of the future with the best training available to those who are deploying wireless infrastructure. PCIA welcomes the opportunity to work with OSHA and other government leaders on this critical effort,” said Jonathan Adelstein, PCIA president and CEO in a prepared statement
OSHA welcomed input from tower workers, wireless carriers, engineering and construction management firms, tower owners, and tower construction and maintenance companies on the causes of employee injuries and fatalities, and to share best practices used by workers and employers in the industry to address these hazards.
“This is an early part of their process to gather information on the industry to determine whether they want to move forward with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” Schlekeway said. “We encourage our membership to review the RFI and respond to some of the specific questions that they feel strongly about.”
In particular, the RFI asks about the significant hazards that tower climbers face the job and what circumstances contribute to the hazards. The RFI asks tower climbers about what they do to remain safe on the job, and what additional safety-related practices they would like to see implemented. OSHA also asks about the specific safety rules and work practices that are provided to tower climbers and who gives them that information.
Schlekeway welcomed OSHA’s effort in the name of tower safety, but he wants to make sure the government knows the efforts the industry is making to address issues brought up in the RFI.
“We will make sure that everyone knows what the Wireless Industry Safety Task Force is working on and the direction of the National Wireless Safety Alliance in terms of assessment certification,” he said.
The deadline for submitting comments is 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Interested parties may submit comments and additional materials electronically at www.regulations.gov, the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Comments may also be mailed or faxed.
March 5, 2015 — Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Kalamazoo, Michigan-based member of the National Association of Tower Erectors, has launched a training academy for cell tower technicians, with classes beginning mid-April 2015.
The curriculum will include classroom instruction, demonstration and laboratory practice in worksite safety, electrical basics, fasteners, cell site basics, lines and antennas, RF fundamentals, computer skills and fiber-optics.
“Trainees will leave the six-week program well prepared for employment. Training to develop the skills needed to perform this work safely is a key component of the program,” the program brochure says.
Along with support from NATE, the KVCC program has garnered the support of local businesses such as Newkirk Electric and Earthcom, a Michigan-based communications contractor.
NATE has several community colleges as members that provide either comprehensive training programs or individual courses, including LakeShore Technical College, Cleveland, Wisconsin; and Corporate College (Western Iowa Tech Community College), Sioux City, Iowa.
“We are starting to see more tower technician training activity at community colleges, and I like that because it helps promote the profession as well as create another training pathway to bring workers into the industry,” said NATE Executive Director Todd Schlekeway. “I anticipate that we will continue to see more of these programs being developed in the future as organizations like PCIA work with Virginia State University to develop educational framework models that community colleges could potentially adopt.”\
Assessment and Certification Group Formed
The Wireless Industry Safety Task Force has created the National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA) to certify the industry’s workforce to the various worker categories outlined in the national wireless skills-based training standard that is currently being developed.
The 501(c)(6) assessment and certification organization will be the governance arm of the task force’s national wireless skills-based training standard, providing independent assessments of knowledge and skills and verifiable certification for professionals who work on towers and at tower sites. The NWSA will serve workers who have completed training programs, including third-party private training, internal company training programs and local community college training.
The development of the standard continues. The task force’s skills-based training subcommittee has developed a skills-based training standard that outlines the minimum competencies and skills required for five categories of workers in the industry: helper/ground worker, ground technician, Telecommunications Tower Technician I, Telecommunications Tower Technician II and General Lead/Foreman.
Additionally, the task force is developing three specialized foreman tracks that will be added to the National Wireless Skills-Based Training Standard. The three are the worker categories of antenna and line foreman, tower construction (stacking foreman), and structural modifications foreman. Plans are in the works for other specialized worker tracks to be developed and added to the standard in the future.
Within the standard, each worker category has a list of both knowledge-based and competency-based skills that the tower technician will need to master to be capable of performing that scope of work. Upon completion, the standard will be broken down by each work category and will be made available to the industry, so that community colleges, such as KVCC, will be able to see what the workers are required to know in order to be certified.
“The National Wireless Skills-Based Training Standard will serve as a playbook that will ultimately improve the various training programs’ ability to prepare individuals for assessment and certification and subsequently the employers’ ability to hire qualified workers,” Schlekeway said.
February 24, 2015 — In an effort to provide certification for the national wireless skills-based training standard being developed for tower climbers, the Wireless Industry Safety Task Force has created the National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA), it was announced this week at NATE UNITE 2015 conference in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
The 501(c)(6) assessment and certification organization will be the governance arm of the Task Force’s national wireless skills-based training standard.
The NWSA was designed to provide independent assessments of knowledge and skills and provide verifiable worker certification to recognize the skilled professionals who work on towers.
“Creating a national assessment and certification entity is the next logical step in order to ensure that industry workers in the future will be trained in accordance to the various worker categories outlined in the National Wireless Skills-Based Training Standard,” said Pat Moore, vice president of operations at Velocitel.
The National Wireless Safety Alliance will serve workers that have completed existing training programs, including third party private training, internal training programs and local community college their training.
In order to accomplish its objectives, the NWSA organization is in the process of developing written and practical assessments for various levels of worker categories outlined in the national wireless skills-based training standard. The NWSA is also creating partnerships with a third party testing firm and a website certification database firm.
Members of the Wireless Industry Safety Task Force have pledged to provide transparent, timely and relevant updates to the industry as key benchmarks are achieved in the establishment of the NWSA assessment and certification program.
Jan. 8, 2015 — As 2014 drew to a close, we were saddened to hear of another tower climber fatality, the 12th in so many months. Allen Lee Cotton, a 44-year-old tower climber, fell to his death from a cell tower in the middle of December in Greeneville, South Carolina.
He was working with two other climbers for Central USA Wireless, Cincinnati, at the time, but neither saw the incident occur. OSHA is investigating the incident.
Earlier in December, firefighters performed a high-angle rescue on a tower climber who had slipped off a platform and was hanging by his safety harness 150 feet off the ground. The rescue took 30 minutes to perform.
This year brought an amazing amount of attention to the safety of tower workers. It all began with a letter to the industry in February from OSHA through NATE to tower service companies, imploring the tower industry to increase its vigilance concerning safety. The agency also promised increased penalties for companies that knowingly ignored the safety of their climbers. In September, OSHA would make good on that threat with fining Wireless Horizon $134,400 for two willful and four serious safety violations for an incident that killed two cell tower workers in 2013.
The importance of tower climber safety increased in visibility at the FCC, as well. The agency examined ways to prevent future deaths of cell tower workers at the day-long Workshop on Tower Climber Safety and Injury Prevention on Oct. 15 in Washington, D.C.
Later in October, the FCC teamed with the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration to launch an apprenticeship program for telecommunications tower technicians, the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP), which partners the government and industry stakeholders to promote safety and education in the telecommunications workforce.
TIRAP will work in concert with ongoing safety efforts, such as one by the National Association of Tower Erectors’ Wireless Industry Safety Taskforce (WIST), formed in 2013 to develop a standard for best practices for sustainable safety training.
Also in October, the Department of Labor announced a $3.25 million grant to create a college-based template for wireless infrastructure job training at Virginia State University, Petersburg, Virginia. The grant, which was written in concert with PCIA – the Wireless Infrastructure Association, allow VSU to strengthen a new program aimed at building a network of colleges to train students for high-skilled careers in wireless infrastructure, and the association will assist in managing the program.
Warriors 4 Wireless was launched to develop training and certification programs with educational institutions, such as Aiken Technical College, and industry partners, such as Grey Wolves Telecom, aimed at employing veterans of the nation’s military.
The focus was not only on the preventing tragedies. A major effort was commenced to support families whose loved ones become casualties while climbing. The Tower Industry Family Support Charitable Foundation was launched in September by the wireless industry with the lead of the National Association Tower Erectors through a joint donation of $400,000 from ClearTalk Wireless, a flat-rate wireless service provider, and the law firm of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth.
But even with well-meaning letters, speeches and committee meetings, cell towers proved to be no less dangerous in 2014. Tragedy met young and old alike. For example, Joel Metz, a 28-year-old father of four, was decapitated on July 2, in a Metz, while replacing a boom at a tower site in Harrison County, Kentucky. Thomas Lucas, 49, fell 80 feet on Aug. 10, while painting a tower in Jo Daviess County, Illinois. Chad Louis Weller, 21, was working on communications equipment located atop of the 180-foot water tower, March 19, in Pasadena, Maryland. Just to name a few. The dozen climbers that died was just one fewer than the year before.
In the New Year, expect the industry, and AGL Media Group, to redouble our efforts to promote tower safety. More people joined the conversation on tower safety in 2014 than ever before, but it is up to the industry to follow through with safety training standards and increased educational options to ensure competent tower climbers. But, most important, the industry cannot tolerate businesses that use low-cost, poorly trained tower workers.
J. Sharpe Smith is the editor of AGL Link and AGL Small Cell Link.
September 11, 2014 — A foundation to provide financial assistance to family members of severely injured or deceased tower workers was launched yesterday at a reception during Super Mobility Week in Las Vegas.
The Tower Industry Family Support Charitable Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non profit that was formed by the wireless industry with the lead of the National Association Tower Erectors.
“We have a moral imperative to gather together and take care of the families who take care of the heroes who take care of our towers,” Jim Tracy (Legacy Towers), the president of the foundation, told an audience of tower industry supporters. “This foundation was established to provide bridge funds for families of severely disabled and deceased tower climbers to aid them in the short term. We will also provide scholarships of $2,500 per year for up to four years.”
Todd Schlekeway, NATE executive director, announced that the foundation has received a joint donation of $400,000 from ClearTalk Wireless, a flat-rate wireless service provider, and the law firm of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth.
Schlekeway also announced the Board of Directors and the Advisory Committee, which established the criteria and guidelines governing the distribution of funds from the foundation.
Along with Tracy, Jim Coleman, MUTI, is the vice president of the foundation; and Kari Carlson, Tower Systems Inc., is the secretary and treasurer. The Advisory Committee includes Cliff Barbieri, Advanced Tower Services; Victor Drouin, Green Mountain Communications; Karen Kyman, Precision Communications; Ben Little, Centerline Solutions; Schlekeway; John Talley, Talley Communications; Dimitri Thornley, JDSU; and Don Evans, Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth.
The foundation is soliciting additional contributions at its website www.towerfamilyfoundation.org