This last year was steady for Shenandoah Tower Service. Not too rambunctious. There was enough work to keep everyone busy. As far as the industry was concerned, we took the time and achieved some traction in healing some self-inflicted wounds concerning how business is done, how people are trained and how we are held accountable. In the coming years, it should get better and bigger as we move forward improving training and certification. Safety should improve. Professionalism in the industry should improve.
In order to fully get there, the industry had to come to consensus and build a bridge between the different parties to further enhance mutual understanding and cooperation. The development of the National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA) to provide independent assessments of knowledge and skills and provide verifiable worker certification in order to enhance training is a very positive move. It has momentum and TIRAP [Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program], which is a public-private partnership to develop apprenticeships and training for the telecom workforce, has momentum. Both of these organizations, their products and services, are being formed from scratch. It takes a lot of time. I am just grateful so many people are willing to volunteer their time to get it done.
Shenandoah Tower Service is engaged across the spectrum with local governments, carriers, utilities and tower companies. They all have a lot of work to do out there. There are still towers to be built and many others need to be modified. There are a lot of antennas to be installed and an increasing amount of backhaul work. Then there are the outliers, the broadcast industry re-pack, which will follow the broadcast spectrum incentive auction, and the beginning of the FirstNet deployment.
This should be a robust year in our industry and I can see that escalating in 2017, 2018 and 2019. I am just hoping we will have enough of the training, certification and re-thinking done to enhance the protection of the workforce before we begin these other endeavors.
One way to achieve that, beyond the training and certification efforts for the climber, is for every other industry discipline/entity to commit to doing all they can to ensure worker safety. My plea is for the carriers, tower owners, engineering firms, tower manufacturers, antenna manufacturers and turfing contractors to adopt a new method of operation; that is Prevention Through Design!
Let me remind you of what I consider the Seven Deadly Sins; all of which can be addressed with Prevention Through Design thinking:
• Safety as a mantra, but profits as the most important goal
• Hiring the wrong person or company to perform the scope of work
• Insufficient training of employees
• Failure of the competent person
• Design flaws creating unsafe conditions
• Compromised climber access/climbing facilities
• Climbers seen as machines, not people
People should not be treated as machines. There is no reason to build out any of these new networks without minimizing the risk to tower climbing personnel.
Dave Anthony is the CEO of Shenandoah Tower Service, based in Staunton, Virginia.
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.
At the AGL Conference in Boston, Nov. 5, the National Association of Tower Erectors announced the availability of the NATE EXCHANGE, and online platform for tower construction and maintenance companies and individual tower technicians to gain access to the training courses tailor to the needs of the tower industry. NATE member companies will qualify for discounted rates on designated training courses offered on this exchange portal. The EXCHANGE includes profiles of the companies providing the training, NATE member discounts, evaluation forms and user-posted reviews. Course categories include confined space, electrical, equipment/vehicle operations, fall protection and rescue, first aid/CPR/AED, gin pole, hoist, ladder/scaffolding, OSHA 10-hour and 30-hour, RF awareness, rigging/signal person, rope, and AM detuning. natehome.com
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