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Heights hazards claim lives in cell tower workplace accidents

Nineteen out of 10,000 doesn't seem like a significant figure, until you learn the first number represents a loss of workers' lives. That's how many communications tower climbers in a relatively small U.S. workforce lost their lives since the beginning of 2013. Employees who install, repair and maintain cellphone towers have the most dangerous job in the country, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Cell towers workers in Kansas may climb 100 feet or higher to accomplish a job on a time-sensitive schedule. Employees who fall often die, and those who survive, like a 24-year-old man who plummeted from an AT&T tower last summer, are seriously injured. Some workers aren't safety secured, others lack proper training or experience, and many work for subcontractors to major telecommunications companies.

OSHA now wants to track which tower owners and cellphone carriers are associated with subcontracted workers' injuries and deaths. The government suspects contractors are shouldering the majority of responsibility for worker safety at cell tower sites – cell carriers have never been cited by OSHA. A 2012 Frontline and ProPublica report alleged carriers and owners purposely passed liability off on contractors.

The government has already instructed safety inspectors to make unscheduled visits to any noticeable work sites at cell towers. Random inspections at the towers aren't easy. The work moves swiftly and may be finished before OSHA becomes aware of it.

Fatal tower workplace accidents since last year included falls from extreme heights, some from slips and others during dismantling operations or tower collapses. In recent weeks, two workers were killed while taking apart a tower. Another worker fell to his death from 180 feet.

Injured employees are entitled to make workers' compensation claims for benefits following accidents that cause temporary or permanent disabilities. An attorney may be able to help seriously injured workers and family members receive the maximum benefits possible under the insurance program.

Source: Pacific Standard, "OSHA Takes a Closer Look at the Most Dangerous Job in America" Liz Day, Apr. 07, 2014

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