AT&T Leads in Tower Worker Deaths

Saturday, May 26, 2012
(photo: U.S. Air Force)
It is one of the most dangerous jobs in America, with a death rate 10 times that of construction work: tower workers. Nearly 100 of these climbers have died on the job since 2003, more than half of them working on cell phone towers and the rest on television, radio, Internet, microwave, and government communication towers. Those performing work on AT&T towers suffered the most fatalities: 15. Eleven of the 15 AT&T deaths occurred between 2006 and 2008 as the company rushed to handle the traffic generated by the introduction of the iPhone.
But like other telecommunications companies, AT&T has not been penalized for worker-safety violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) following these on-the-job deaths.
That’s because most of the climbers are not employed by the cell phone operators. Instead, they work for subcontractors, which poses a quandary for OSHA enforcers seeking to punish businesses for losing so many employees.
According to an investigation by ProPublica and PBS “Frontline,” OSHA has not penalized any cell carriers for safety violations implicated in subcontractor deaths on cell sites since 2003.
“Generally, we can only cite employers when their employees are at the work site,” Jordan Barab, OSHA’s deputy administrator, told ProPublica. “As you go up the line, it becomes much more difficult to actually hold the companies at the top responsible.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Built for a Simpler Era, OSHA Struggles When Tower Climbers Die (by Ryan Knutson, PBS Frontline, and Liz Day, ProPublica)
In Race For Better Cell Service, Men Who Climb Towers Pay With Their Lives (by Ryan Knutson, PBS Frontline, and Liz Day, ProPublica)
After a Tower Climber Falls, Stand Down Called for on AT&T Projects  (by Ryan Knutson, PBS Frontline, and Liz Day, ProPublica)

Cell Tower Climbing: Deadliest Job in United States? (by Charlotte Raynor, Yahoo Voices) 


Dave Szczepanik 6 years ago
in response to ricardo's comment: osha uses the multi-employer citation policy when several subcontractors are engaged in construction (key word) activities. a general contractor is subject to penalties if it is at the jobsite daily, conducts walkarounds and sees the hazards in plain view, and has safety & health responsibilities, usually by contract. if they meet these criteria, the gc can be cited as the 'controlling' employer. the controlling employer is often the 'correcting' employer as well because he/she has the authority to make corrections themselves, or delegate abatement to others onsite. often times, when the subcontracor meets the requirements of a 'creating' and 'exposing' employer, the gc is cited for the identical standard violation(s). however, this only applies to construction activities. if general-industry activities such as maintainence are going on, all bets are off regarding the multi-employer citation policy. this can be found at the back end of the 29 cfr part 1926 standards.
Ricardo Beas 6 years ago
there can be two culprits here: (1) the subcontractor who should have trained and provided protective equipment to their emps [like fall protection], and (2) the owners of the towers, one from the side of whether the towers are safe to climb and the other as far as requiring their subcontractors to follow safety procedures and to train their personnel. like in construction, osha should be able to fine either or both.
OSHA Trainer 6 years ago
regarding the high number of fatal falls involving at&t workers / sub's versus their competitors, it is probably due to the fact that at&t was building three times more towers than their competitors at the time. not necessarily indicitive of a higher "rate". the more interesting issue is the reported "rate" of cell tower workers dying is ten times higher than construction in general. if you look at the osha training requirements (available to view at, you will find there are no osha rules specific to tower climbers.

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