By Patrick D. Joyce and Craig B. Simonsen

Radio Tower Worker Painting From High UpOn Thursday, February 11, 2016 OSHA and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hosted a public workshop to discuss draft Best Practices in Communication Tower Safety, which were compiled after a meeting of industry stakeholders and participants in a FCC and Department of Labor (DOL) Joint Workshop, held on October 14, 2014.

In 2014, OSHA and the FCC established a partnership aimed at improving worker safety in the tower climbing industry. The communication tower industry is unique in that the company that owns the tower rarely performs tower maintenance and upgrade work in-house.  By the time the work is actually performed, there may be three or four layers of sub-contractors between the workers performing the work and the tower owner.

In 2014, OSHA and the FCC recognized that this lack of control and accountability for tower climber safety made implementation and enforcement of safety programs difficult. To address this, the 2014 stakeholder meeting identified several areas where tower climber safety could be improved by directly involving the tower owner in maintaining a safe work site, including:

  • Improved training of tower climbers
  • Implementing and enforcing 100% tie-off rules
  • Conducting regular safety audits
  • Improving contractor selection and vetting
  • Improving communication between the tower owner and the contractor performing the work

While not an enforceable OSHA regulation, the Best Practices document is part of OSHA’s and the FCC’s efforts to reduce communications tower-related fatalities and injuries. To that effect, at the February 11, 2016 workshop, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) announced the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP).

The TIRAP is an effort to provide a comprehensive, standardized development program for new workers in the communication tower industry. OSHA and FCC will seek input from stakeholders gathered from all sectors of the communication tower industry to ensure that TIRAP is comprehensive and rigorous, and that it truly prepares new workers to perform quality work in the safest manner possible.

OSHA has long indicated a desire to implement standardized communication tower industry regulations, but has not yet achieved that goal.  The Best Practices may be the first step in that process, so it is important that all employers in the communication tower industry monitor the situation and stay up to date on any changes.