Who is Responsible for Worker Safety on Communication Towers?

April 30, 2018

The employer is the obvious answer, but the construction, maintenance, and repair of communication towers has evolved in ways that have created chains of employers, from tower owners to operators to contractors to layers of subcontractors. The consequence is that there can be so many employers that some may not even know the identity of the others. In such situations, there can be erroneous assumptions by an employer(s) that worker safety measures are being carried out by another entity on the employer chain.

Depending on their role at the worksite, multiple employers may or may not be cited if a worker safety violation occurs (see OSHA’s Multi-Employer Citation Policy). But regardless of who bears the majority of legal liability, no member of the employer chain is exempt from the responsibility to ensure worker safety on what has been called one of the most dangerous jobs in the construction industry.

In a guidance document, OSHA and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) describe the complexities of employer responsibility at communication tower worksites and how critical safety issues should be addressed.

“When carriers own their own towers and directly employ the employees who build and maintain the towers and the equipment on them, the carriers have the ability and incentive to ensure safe practices,” state OSHA/FCC.

Typically, however, the relationship between carriers and tower employees is more complicated. For example:

  • Towers are often owned by separate corporations (not carriers, generally) and are built by contractors.
  • Carriers often contract with turfing vendors for the installation and maintenance of equipment on towers.
  • Turfing vendors, in turn, may hire other contractors to perform work.
  • These contractors may subcontract tower work to still smaller employers.


“As a result, carriers and tower owners may not know who is performing work for them, or when work is being performed,” state OSHA/FCC. “Thus, responsibility for employee safety is fractured into many layers. Instead of a single company having control and responsibility for employee safety and tower integrity, employer responsibilities can be spread over numerous small employers.”

The guidance document is based on workshops OSHA and the FCC conducted in 2014 and 2016; the first covered critical safety issues workers faced, and the second covered best practices. The guidance summarizes the responsibilities of both communication tower worksite employers and employees, including establishment of a comprehensive safety program describing management leadership, employee participation, hazard identification and assessment, hazard prevention and control, education and training, and program evaluation and improvement. Also discussed is communication on multiemployer workplaces.

“Host and contract employers coordinate on work planning and scheduling to identify and resolve any conflicts that could impact safety or health,” state OSHA/FCC.  The following specific recommendations are made:

  • To maximize effectiveness, coordination of safety and health programs along the contracting chain should be managed by a designated person (for example, a chief safety officer) to ensure clear lines of responsibility and accountability.
  • This designated person will ideally have some personal experience climbing and working on towers or have a close advisor who has such experience.
  • The program should clearly delineate the roles and responsibilities of each party in the contracting chain for employee safety and health. Abiding by these roles and responsibilities should be a condition of awarding contracts.
  • The safety and health program should establish concrete consequences for contractors that do not take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of their employees. In some instances, termination of the contract may be an appropriate consequence.
  • Verification


Each contractor should have a process to verify that lower-level subcontractors have comprehensive safety programs in place. The verification process should include:

  • Clear criteria for vetting and approving all contractors (including subcontractors) and verification that all contractors are subject to the same vetting criteria;
  • Procedures for obtaining (or requiring contractors to maintain) certification and training records for each climber on-site;
  • Procedures for obtaining written approval for any subcontracting;
  • Procedures providing for the ongoing monitoring and evaluation of contractor safety records, including OSHA records;
  • Criteria for considering a contractor’s safety record in the awarding of future contracts; and
  • Provisions for independent (third-party) audits of jobsites to ensure that the contractors performing work are vetted contractors and that they are performing work using appropriate safety measures.
  • Turfing vendors in pivotal position
  • While all entities in the employer chain have major responsibilities, the guidance notes that turfing vendors are in the best position to ensure an open flow of communication between carriers, tower owners, and contractors.


“It is vital that contractors have all relevant information to safely complete work activities,” state OSHA/FCC. “Often contractors encounter safety issues on sites that tower owners and carriers are not aware of, and the responsible parties need to be made aware of these situations. Turfing vendors can ensure that the relevant parties in the contracting chain are exchanging necessary information.”

St Louis Hazardous Waste and DOT Hazardous Materials Training


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Hilton Head Hazardous Waste and DOT Hazardous Materials Training

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Baton Rouge Hazardous Waste and DOT Hazardous Materials Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Baton Rouge, LA on June 5-7 and save $100 or receive an Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet with electronic versions of both handbooks. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Proposed Penalty of $258,672 for Operating Damaged Forklift 

OSHA has cited Rural King Supply, Inc., a national farm supply company, for failing to maintain forklifts properly at its Xenia, Ohio facility. The company faces proposed penalties of $258,672.

OSHA responded to complaints that Rural King Supply, Inc. allowed employees to operate a damaged forklift, despite employees’ reports of faulty brakes. OSHA investigators determined that the company failed to take the forklift out of service, or perform needed repairs.

"This employer ignored employee concerns about unsafe conditions, disregarded safety procedures, and put their workers at risk for serious injuries by failing to maintain safe equipment,” said Ken Montgomery, OSHA Cincinnati Area Office Director. 

Employee Prevails After Wrongful Dismissal for Cooperating in OSHA Investigation

OSHA and Jasper Contractors Inc. have reached a settlement that resolves a lawsuit filed under the anti-retaliation provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. In the settlement, Jasper Contractors - headquartered in Kennesaw, Georgia, but performing roofing work in Florida - agreed to pay an employee $48,000 in back wages and compensatory damages.

The action follows a former safety director’s allegation that the roofing company fired him after he cooperated with an OSHA investigation by providing a statement and safety documentation. Terminating an employee for cooperating with an OSHA investigation violates Section 11(c) of the OSH Act.

The company and its owner, Brian Wedding, are forbidden from violating provisions of Section 11(c), and will expunge the disciplinary actions from the employee’s personnel file. OSHA will provide training to this company’s employees covering their rights under Section 11(c).

“It is against the law for an employer to retaliate against an employee cooperating with an OSHA inspector.   The OSH Act protects employees who exercise their right to report safety concerns and OSHA enforces those legal provisions,” said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA Atlanta Regional Administrator.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, healthcare reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.

Georgia Raising Awareness to Reduce Lead Exposure 

OSHA, the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Safety, Health, and Environment Services Group and Georgia Department of Public Health’s Division of Health Protection have formed a two-year alliance to raise awareness about lead exposure.

OSHA and its partners will provide employers, industry leaders, and the public with information, guidance, and access to training resources on preventing worker exposure to lead hazards in general and construction industries. The alliance will also emphasize how best to communicate this information to hard-to-reach workers.

“Employers who implement appropriate safety controls and procedures can help minimize employee exposure to lead,” said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA Regional Administrator. “The Department of Labor hopes that this collaborative effort will be a valuable tool in our mission to keep employees safe and healthy.”

#PresstoTest Campaign Keeps Smoke Alarms Working

With over half of Michigan’s residential fire fatalities claiming the lives of those over the age of 60 last year, the State Fire Marshal urged Michiganders to Push the Button to test smoke alarms in the homes of elderly loved ones to make sure they are working properly. Participants were encouraged to post a video of their test to Facebook and the Push the Button Challenge Facebook Page with the #PresstoTest.

“Go visit anyone that you care about – your mom, dad, grandparents, elderly neighbors – and record a video of yourself and your family member testing their smoke alarm,” said Sehlmeyer. “By pushing the button on each smoke alarm, you will make sure the smoke alarm works and know that your family and friends are protected. It is such a simple, easy, life-saving thing you can do. Make sure to share your video on social media using the hashtag ‘#PressToTest’ and challenge your friends to do the same for their family."

Homes should have a working smoke alarm on every level of the house, including the basement – and one in every bedroom. If you have a fire, you will have less than three minutes to get out of your home before the smoke and fire gases become deadly based on live fire studies conducted by Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and the National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST). The early warning given by smoke alarms provide you with extra time to escape, especially children and senior citizens who are most at risk and need extra seconds to get out safely.

Smoke alarms need to be replaced every 10 years. You should check your smoke alarms monthly. If your smoke alarm begins to “chirp,” it’s a warning that the battery is low and needs to be replaced. Smoke alarms are either powered by a disposable 9-volt battery or non-replaceable 10-year lithium “long-life” battery.  Some homes have smoke alarms directly hardwired into the home electrical system.  Hard-wired smoke alarms are usually equipped with a backup battery and those batteries also need to be replaced at some point. An advantage with hard-wired alarms is that they are interconnected so when one smoke alarm goes off, all the smoke alarms go off in the whole house. Never borrow a battery from a smoke alarm to use somewhere else.

Sehlmeyer emphasized that this rather lighthearted challenge addresses a deadly serious issue in Michigan. For the last several years, Michigan has ranked in the top tier of states nationally for its high number of residential fire fatalities. In 2017, Michigan’s fire departments collectively reported 87 residential fire fatalities with the highest percentage (52.4%) among those over age 60.  Further, the National Fire Protection Association reports that 3 out of every 5 home fire deaths occur from fires in homes without working smoke alarms.

“We will do whatever is necessary to reinforce the message that having working smoke alarms save lives,” said Stan Barnes of the Farmington Fire Department. Contact your local fire department or local Red Cross Chapter if your financial situation is keeping you from having working smoke alarms.

The Michigan Community Risk Reduction (CRR) Task Force is a statewide program that is working to reduce fire fatalities in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the state.

NIOSH Presents Annual Science Awards

Several NIOSH researchers and partners have been awarded for their significant contributions to the field of occupational safety and health in 2017.

NIOSH presents the annual awards to honor researchers for excellence in science that informs and supports the prevention of work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. The awards include the following:

  • Alice Hamilton Award, for scientific excellence of technical and instructional materials by NIOSH scientists and engineers
  • Bullard-Sherwood Research-to-Practice Award, for exceptional efforts by NIOSH researchers and partners in applying occupational safety and health research to the prevention of workplace fatalities, illnesses, or injuries
  • Director’s Intramural Award for Extraordinary Science for outstanding contributions by intramural scientists and support staff to science excellence at NIOSH.
  • Plain Language Award, for NIOSH fact sheets, brochures, or web pages that exemplify the content and design principles of the Plain Writing Act of 2010
  • James P. Keogh Award, for outstanding service by an individual in the occupational safety and health field


“The annual NIOSH Science Awards provides an opportunity to acknowledge the outstanding contributions NIOSH staff and partners have made to the field of occupational safety and health,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “The award ceremony is placed purposefully before Workers Memorial Day as both share a mission to remember and honor the safety and health of workers in all that we do.”

Wagner-Meinert Honored for Workplace Safety

Wagner-Meinert, LLC, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, is now a certified participant in the Indiana Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (INSHARP) and joins other select Hoosier worksites in representing exemplary occupational safety and health.

Wagner-Meinert, LLC, specializes in the design, installation, and servicing of Freon and ammonia refrigeration systems for food process industries, cold storage distribution facilities, pharmaceutical, and fertilizer industries. The Fort Wayne facility has been in business for 25 years at their current location and employs about 100 on-site workers, and 175 company-wide.

“It is our agency’s pleasure to recognize outstanding safety and health in this facility,” said Indiana Department of Labor Commissioner Rick Ruble, congratulating the management and employees of the small company. “Thank you to the hardworking staff at Wagner-Meinert for your commitment to keeping yourselves and each other safe every day,”

Wagner-Meinert has an average total recordable case rate of 1.3 for the past three years, nearly half the national industry average of 4.2. The Indiana Safety and Health Recognition Program provided by the state labor agency, recognizes Hoosier employers that operate exemplary safety and health management systems. Certification in INSHARP is an achievement of status that will single employers out among their

business peers as a model worksite for Hoosier workplace safety and health.

Statement from Loren Sweatt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, on Workers’ Memorial Day 2018 

April 28 was Workers’ Memorial Day, a time we remember and honor the men and women who have lost their lives on the job. The Department of Labor is committed to ensuring safe and healthful workplaces for all American workers.

April 28 was also the day OSHA first opened its doors in 1971, after Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. American workplaces have become much safer in the decades since; however one life lost is one too many.

American workers’ health and safety must be protected, and every American worker should return home at the end of each and every workday, safe and unharmed. Workplace safety needs to be everyone’s priority. We will continue to work with our partners across the country – job creators, trade associations, labor unions, safety and health professionals, and individual workers – to make every workplace safe and healthful. Working together we can continue to improve working conditions in this country and create more good, safe family-sustaining jobs for all Americans.

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