Two workers were free climbing, or climbing without safety lines, a 195-foot communication tower under construction without adequate fall protection in Coolville. As a result, Morlan Enterprises has been cited for one willful and eight serious safety violations by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA has proposed penalties of $52,500.
"Free climbing a communication tower is extremely dangerous, and it was this company's responsibility to ensure appropriate fall protection was provided and used," said Deborah Zubaty, OSHA's area director in Columbus. "Employers and cell tower owners and operators must do everything possible to stop senseless, preventable tragedies in the communication tower industry."
In 2013, 13 workers were fatally injured at communication work sites. The majority of these deaths were a result of falls. OSHA requires employers to provide fall protection equipment, train employees how to use the safety equipment and ensure that they use it properly and consistently.
Morlan Enterprises was contracted by New Era Broadband Services of Coolville to perform tower construction and antenna installation services at 20 locations in the Meigs County area. The New Era Broadband construction project is being funded by a grant, administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Utilities Service, to bring broadband services to underserved communities in the area.
The willful violation cites the company for failing to ensure workers climbing the tower were using effective and adequate fall protection, including installing a climbing cable to the tower. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or with plain indifference to employee safety and health.
Eight serious violations were cited for failing to provide workers with training on fall hazards, provide personal protective equipment, such as shock-absorbing lanyards and hard hats, and requiring workers to purchase their own fall arrest harnesses and other protective equipment. Other violations involved failing to make provisions for prompt medical attention* before starting work and having first aid kits available for emergencies.
An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.
OSHA is concerned about the alarming increase in preventable injuries and fatalities at communication tower work sites. As a result, OSHA is collaborating with the National Association of Tower Erectors and other industry stakeholders to ensure that every communication tower employer understands how to protect workers performing this high-hazard work.
More fatalities occurred in this industry in 2013 than in the previous two years combined. This disturbing trend appears to be continuing, with seven worker deaths occurring so far in 2014. To prevent these tragic incidents, OSHA has sent a letter to communication tower employers urging compliance and strict adherence to safety standards and common-sense practices. OSHA has also created a new Web page targeting the issues surrounding communication tower work. This outreach follows a November 2013 memo to OSHA's compliance officers and regional administrators* mandating increased attention, education and data collection on the industry.
Morlan Enterprises, based in Parkersburg, West Virginia, has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.