It was in October 2014 that Labor Secretary Tom Perez welcomed participants to the FCC and DOL Workshop on Tower Climber Safety and Injury Prevention. At that time, we talked about how there had been too many tragedies on towers. In 2013, there were 13 fatalities, and in 2014 there were a dozen fatalities, and somebody had to say, “No, this needs to stop.” The October 2014 workshop focused on how do we do better; how do we say this is not an acceptable situation.
The FCC had a role. The Department of Labor had a role. But the biggest responsibility was the industry’s. The industry stepped up. There were three fatalities in 2015, a significant decrease as a result of a significant increase in effort. I started to say only three fatalities. You can never say only, because that’s still three too many. So there was no celebration of that improvement at kitchen tables in three households. That’s what we have to be continually mindful of as we work through today and then continue forward.
The times that are going to follow will be particularly challenging. The 2016 construction season is about to begin. The fact that wireless is the communications pathway of the 21st century means that there is increased demand. The fact that spectrum is scarce means that cell-splitting will only increase the number of installations. Small cells mean more antennas. We’re also heading into the incentive auction, which is going to trigger two things. The first is a movement in the broadcast space. I know the broadcasters are concerned about their antennas. The second is new construction in the wireless space.
A Coming Increase in Demand
We had a big problem. The problem was addressed, the number of tragedies decreased, and now we are about to see a steep increase in demand, and we must continue and improve upon the record of the last year.
The industry that provides world-class wireless service must have world-class safety for its employees and contractors, period. That means that everybody has to be proactive. The FCC is trying to be proactive. The U.S. Department of Labor is trying to be proactive. The industry is trying to be proactive.
We must have consistency in analysis so we know what’s going on. We have to have best practices that exist more than as a document that is filed away and states, “Oh, here are our best practices.” Those best practices must be manifested on the tower.
We have to have training standards. We have to have expanded training in order to meet this demand, because there is going to be an influx of individuals to do the work.
The progress has been wonderful. But the increasing demand that is coming is going to stress that progress. Our challenge collectively is to make sure that we are ready to deal with that stress.
Tom Wheeler became the 31st Chairman of the FCC on November 4, 2013. Chairman Wheeler was appointed by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. For over three decades, Chairman Wheeler has been involved with new telecommunications networks and services, experiencing the revolution in telecommunications as a policy expert, an advocate, and a businessman. As an entrepreneur, he started or helped start multiple companies offering innovative cable, wireless, and video communications services.