• FCC & OSHA Tower Safety
  • October 23, 2014 | Authors: Kelly V. Friend; Lawrence P. Halprin; Manesh K. Rath; David G. Sarvadi
  • Law Firm: Keller and Heckman LLP - Washington Office
  • On October 14, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) convened a workshop to discuss the recent increase in telecommunication tower worker deaths. The workshop was described by FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler and DOL Secretary Thomas Perez as an “unprecedented” conversation between wireless carriers, tower owners, engineering firms, tower service subcontractors, and representatives of telecom tower workers. Despite its billing, the event proved little more than a public opportunity to repeat popular talking points. Upon its conclusion, it was unclear whether any progress had been made on addressing the perceived problems facing the industry.

    The half-day event was split into two panels; the first reviewed the myriad of problems that have led to workplace deaths; in the second, speakers attempted to establish best practices to improve tower safety. The three-hour workshop concluded without either panel identifying concrete steps to take to reduce tower deaths, nor did the participants reach a consensus as to who is responsible for ensuring worker safety. Those representing the telecom tower workers and one subcontractor on the first panel blamed the spike in fatalities on contract regimes that protect wireless carriers’ and tower owners’ profits at the expense of workers. The carriers and owners noted that they have programs in place to assure that contractors meet certain standards and that fall protection procedures among others are followed. They attributed the deaths to insufficient training and lack of proper oversight. Both panels recognized that if the tower servicing industry, both employers and employees, fail to follow recommendations for safety protections, accidents will continue. Competition to deliver faster wireless technology will increase demand for telecom employees, suggesting that training of new employees will be a significant challenge.

    OSHA provided little insight into how it anticipates addressing the hazards of tower work but some panelists were eager to offer ideas for how to better protect workers. Many of these ideas aligned closely with the new policy objectives OSHA has floated recently, including more onerous recordkeeping and reporting requirements and closer scrutiny of multi-employer worksites.

    The event closed with a signing ceremony celebrating the creation of the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program’s (TIRAP). The DOL describes the TIRAP as a training program established to promote safety, enhance quality, and enable education and advancement opportunities in the telecommunications workforce. Though the Agency provided no details on the proposed standards that would comprise the TIRAP, it indicated it is designed to allow wireless companies to adapt standards to their companies needs while ensuring competency in both project quality and safety. Developed in 2012 with assistance by the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE, http://natehome.com/), the program also creates a TIRAP Board which will include OSHA staff, and representatives from the industry and wireless companies. The Board will provide training and instructional direction for the program. A model TIRAP standard is available here: http://doleta.gov/oa/bul14/bulletin&under;2014-21/ngs&under;tirap.pdf.