By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

This week David Michaels, PhD, MPH, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, wrote a letter to the communication tower industry about the rise in falls from communication towers, indicating that “every single one of these tragedies was preventable.”

According to Michaels, the industry has experienced an “alarming increase in worker deaths.” He states that in 2013 thirteen workers in the industry were killed at communication tower worksites. “This is more worker deaths than in the previous two years combined. Four more workers have been killed in the first weeks of 2014.”

In addition to falls, Michaels notes that in the past few months tower workers have been injured and killed by falling objects, equipment failure, and the structural collapse of towers. Michaels states that “I am writing to remind you that it is your responsibility to prevent workers from being injured or killed while working on communication towers. All employers, especially those employers in high-risk industries such as communication tower operations, have a responsibility to recognize and prevent workplace hazards.”

In Michaels letter he lists the steps that employers need take to protect its employees. These steps include employee training and supervision to ensure that safe work practices are learned and followed, and by providing appropriate fall protection, training employees to use fall protection properly, and the supervision and enforcement of the use of fall protection by the employer.

Of note is that “OSHA will be paying particular attention to contract oversight issues, and will obtain contracts in order to identify not only the company performing work on the tower, but the tower owner, carrier, and other responsible parties in the contracting chain.”

It is a good time for employers in this industry to review their safety policies, procedures, and training programs. If subcontractors are used, then be sure to review the contracting language carefully, as going forward OSHA will be doing the same.