September 29, 2014 — OSHA finally made good on its threat to increase fines levied against tower companies for safety violations, assessing Wireless Horizon, St. Louis, $134,400 for a tower collapse, which killed two men in March of this year.
The fine was assessed for an incident that occurred March 25 when two Wireless Horizon employees — Seth Garner, 25, of St. Peters, Missouri, and Martin Powers, 38, of St. Charles, Missouri — were dismantling a Union Pacific communications tower. The tower technicians were using a load-lifting gin pole attached to the side of the tower with a wire rope sling. The sling failed, causing the gin pole to fall and the tower to collapse. One man was above the gin pole near the top of the tower, and the second man was 20 feet below the pole. Both fell to the ground.
OSHA sent a letter a letter to tower industry employers in February telling them if they did not follow safety procedures they would face “willful” violations, which are committed with intentional disregard for the law or with indifference to worker safety and have a much higher fine than a “serious” violation. OSHA describes a serious violation as a situation in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm will result from a hazard that the employer should have known about.
David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health wrote that a lack of fall protection and proper safety training by employers are to blame for the industry’s death count.
Horizon Wireless was issued four serious violations, each with a $5,600 fine, and two willful violations, each with a $56,000 fine.
OSHA’s investigation found that Wireless Horizon failed to inspect the wire rope slings prior to use and failed to provide protection to the slings when rigged over sharp objects, which resulted in the two willful violations.
“Each day before being used, and during use, where service conditions warrant, the sling and all fastenings and attachments were not inspected for damage or defects by a competent person, and damaged or defective slings were not immediately removed from service [resulting in a willful violation],” OSHA wrote.
Additionally, the slings were not padded or protected from the sharp edges of their load, according to OSHA.
“This violation was most recently documented on March 25, 2014, when a wire rope sling being used to connect a gin pole to a communication tower failed, due to being wrapped around the communication tower steel angle leg without being protected from sharp edge of leg,” OSHA wrote.