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.
The numbers tell a grim story. Climber fatalities last year totaled 13. So far in 2014, six tower techs have already lost their lives. OSHA has put carriers and turf contractors on notice that it will include them in its efforts to address culpability when tower climbers of subcontractors suffer accidents in the future.
Sprint, which is in the middle of the multibillion dollar rollout of Network Vision, has seen its share of tragedy with climbers dying at four of its sites in the last year. This week, Sprint Network responded to safety concerns by hiring an auditing company, PICS Auditing, to enhance its supply chain risk management, implementing qualification and supplier audit services.
“Supply chain management is crucial to Sprint,” said Jared Smith, PICS’ chief operating officer. “PICS’ supplier audit program will play a key role in the company’s efforts to pre-screen and audit their suppliers.”
As with all carriers, Sprint uses a multilayered system of contractors to deploy its wireless technology in the field. However, carriers, in general, have been criticized for not taking responsibility for the safety procedures of their contractors and subcontractors.
“After poring over thousands of documents, we discovered a complex web of subcontracting that has allowed the major carriers to avoid scrutiny when accidents happen,” said Martin Smith, a producer for Frontline, during an investigative program that aired in 2012.
A contractor prequalification company, PICS works to ensure that suppliers are qualified to work in a safe manner by screening suppliers, verifying insurance and performing risk-based audits on contractors.
The PICS platform will provide added insight into supply chain activities. Contractor data is collected and tracked, which is then integrated into performance management software.
Sprint is also a member of the Wireless Industry Safety Task Force begun by the National Association of Tower Erectors, along with the other major carriers. NATE Executive Director Todd Schlekeway applauded Sprint’s move. NATE has resources such as the Qualified Contractors Evaluation Checklist that it provides for its members.
“A fly-by-night operation coming into the industry because of the insatiable workforce needs will not make it through the screening process when it comes to PICS,” Schlekeway said. “This is another way to vet contractors and make sure that qualified contractors are gaining work on all the carrier buildouts.”
Motorola has used PICS for several years for auditing contractors, according to Schlekeway, but Sprint is the first of the carriers to use the firm.
“We have been talking for years about the importance of vetting contractors to make sure their employees are adequately trained and they are experienced to handle the scope of work,” Schlekeway said. “This could establish a trend toward third-party auditors. It will be interesting to see if the other carriers go in this direction.”
Based on a reevaluation of the evidence and other factors in the case, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has reduced the number and severity of its citations and the accompanying fines against Pinpoint Towers for an incident in 2013, which resulted in a tower climber fatality.
In the final report, Pinpoint Services was found to have two “other than serious” citations and was fined $7,000 for each citation. Both of these fines were paid.
Originally, the tower company was fined $21,000 and cited with three serious safety violations after a worker died from a fall from a cell tower in November 2013 in Wichita, Kansas. The company subsequently contested the citations before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
The 25-year-old worker was performing maintenance when he fell 50 feet while descending from the tower.
In February 2014, OSHA and the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) sent a letter to all communications tower employers urging compliance with safety standards after 13 climbers died in 2013. The letter said, “OSHA will consider issuing willful citations, in appropriate cases, for a failure to provide and use fall protection.” The agency also promised to pay attention to contract oversight issues.
OSHA has also created a new Web page targeting the safety issues surrounding communication tower work. It can be found at www.osha.gov/doc/topics/communicationtower/index.html.