In 2013 thirteen professional cell tower climbers were killed on the job. Between 2003 and 2011, nearly 100 were killed. Thirteen people doesn’t seem like a whole lot of people compared to some other hazardous jobs, such as loggers or structural steel workers, but there are comparatively few cell tower workers making the rate of fatalities much higher than the numbers seem to reflect. In 2004, there were 10 deaths among approximately 8,700 workers, for a death rate of 115 per 100,000, making professional tower climbing one of the nation’s deadliest professions, ahead of both logging workers and airline pilots, who died on the job at a rate of 92.4 per 100,000 each. Some of these towers are upwards of 1,000 feet high.
If you work, or are considering a job, as a cell tower worker, I say this not to scare you away from the job, but to make you aware of just how hazardous the job can be, especially when proper safety precautions are not observed. Most cell tower workers are employed by small subcontracting companies, not the major cell carriers, and some of these smaller companies try to cut corners on safety. No matter who you work for, there are some things you can do to improve the chances that you will make it home at the end of every day.
- ALWAYS STAY ALERT!!! All the safety equipment in the world can’t protect you if you aren’t paying attention.
- Make certain you have adequate safety gear, including a full body harness, positioning and shock absorbing lanyards, hard hat or helmet with chin strap, weight rated carabiners in various sizes, and a good tool bag.
- USE your safety equipment, and use it properly. All the safety equipment in the world is no good to you if you leave it in the truck, or if it isn’t secure, or if it isn’t adjusted properly.
- Regularly inspect your safety gear to ensure it is in good working condition. Replace your gear any time it starts to show wear.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration can affect your balance and your ability to focus.
- Always have the next safety line in place before detaching the last one.
- Know exactly where you are. In an emergency, you need to be able to give responders your exact location, street and address, and directions to get to you.
- Climb with your legs, not your arms. Use your leg muscles to propel you up and your arms for balance. If your arms are tired before you even get to the top, it will be hard to use your tools effectively.
If you find yourself working for a company that doesn’t observe safe practices, you might want to consider finding a different job. Until then, you may have to take matters into your own hands. Just remember, if you are injured or killed on the job, it’s your family that suffers, not your company. They will hire someone to take your place and keep going like nothing happened. Your family can’t replace you that easily.
Ultimately, most of the fatalities in cell tower climbers can be traced back to inadequate or poorly maintained safety equipment and/or a worker neglecting basic safety protocols. If you stay alert, keep your safety gear in good working order and use it properly, you will be far more likely to make it home at the end of the day. Stay aware, stay safe, stay alive.