“It is no surprise that there are still serious accidents even with OSHA keeping watch,” Fleming said. “Think about it, there’s no room for error. All it takes is a minor slip and the consequence is grave – pun intended!” Fleming stressed that climbers be mindful of using good equipment, exercise common sense and be properly trained regularly.
Since 1970, OSHA has monitored employers by advocating the safety of climbers. This organization requires that employers provide their climbers with personal protection equipment as well as job and hazard awareness training. This leaves a huge burden on the employers to ensure that their climbers have the proper equipment and training. “Make sure your company’s certifications and logs are current. If it’s not written down, OSHA will conclude it didn’t happen.”
OSHA reviews every case resulting in injury or death with the intention of determining what can be done to prevent the accident from happening again. Fleming suggests, “This is why I say OSHA standards are written in blood.” As we learn from costly mistakes, mistakes that cost the lives of climbers, OSHA modifies the standards to prevent similar incidents.
Improvements in Standards
There have been many improvements in OSHA standards since the early 1980s. In 1998 the standards changed, disallowing the use of body belts for fall protection, which led to some significant changes in fall protection equipment and training.
“Be aware of OSHA’s requirements – they change,” said Fleming. He has trained hundreds of tower climbers in safety and rescue. Fleming suggests that companies and utilities rely on the tower training experts to assure that their employees are properly trained and their company is OSHA compliant. “The sad truth is – proper training can mean the difference between life and death.”
Art Seely, founder of Safety One International, was among the first group of certified paramedics in the United States. Seely was a paramedic in Los Angeles and said, “I witnessed tragic tower climbing accidents. It was obvious that the climbers were just not properly trained.”�
The OSHA standard specific to the telecommunication industry is 1910.268. There have been countless tragedies over the years ending in climbers’ deaths or permanent injuries. “There is no silver lining when it comes to an injury or death,” Seely says. “But it is apparent that OSHA is making strides to keep workers safe.”
Though times have changed and standards have changed, both OSHA and tower climbers’ employers strive for one thing – to eliminate injuries and fatalities relating to climbing. A quick review of some OSHA Standard modifications since 1980 includes:
Training: Employees to be CPR trained. Qualified climbers to be trained. Rescue procedures involving a simulated rescue to be conducted annually.
Equipment required for each climber: Full body harness, fall protection lanyard with shock absorber, positioning belt, helmet with chin strap, lifeline and rescue equipment inspected and available on site.
Site requirements and job briefing (Work Safety Program Meeting): Site location by address and/or longitude/latitude identified, site hazard evaluation; “Competent Person” designated and job review; “Elevated (High Angle) Rescue” evaluation, which determines the individual responsible in the event a rescue is required, with contact information. It also assesses the workers’ training on the job and determines if proper rescue equipment is available; ground safety established; harnesses, lanyards, positioning belts and rescue equipment to be inspected and logged before use; ladder safety systems evaluated, inspected and logged; first aid kit on site and inspected; identification of employees at the site with emergency contact numbers; emergency procedure on site and reviewed; emergency communication contact evaluated.
Tragic yet avoidable accidents inspired Seely to form Safety One International, a company that provides safety, survival and rescue training to governments, utilities and corporations both nationally and internationally. In addition to Antenna & Tower Climbing and Rescue, Safety One offers Snow Vehicle Operator Safety, Winter Safety and Survival, Helicopter Passenger Safety, All-Terrain Vehicle Operator Safety as well as Confined Space Safety and Rescue.
Steve Fleming has been training tower climbers since 1986. “It’s clear that the changes OSHA has implemented over the decades have saved lives. But until tower climbing isn’t recognized as ‘the most dangerous job in America,’ there’s more work to be done.”