Loading...


Have you ever been on a communications tower that's missing so much hardware, you are sure there is a structural issue? Andrew Brown has. Andrew is the owner of Orchard Telesolutions, based in Michigan. One morning Andrew posted a question on Facebook addressing this very issue. I decided to do something about this all too common problem.

That same day, less than a month ago, I created a Facebook page called 'Unsafe Towers’. In the week prior to writing this article, I saw on Facebook an antenna mounted with zip-ties and a tower with so much corrosion that you could actually see through the pipe. I have asked both of the men who posted those photos to let me know where those sites are located. They were each concerned with getting in trouble for actually reporting the problem. The irony is that their names are associated with their posts on Facebook.


The job hazard analysis / certification of hazard assessment (JHA/CHA) was created to reduce liability to the lowest level: the climber. If there is an accident onsite, everyone from the contractor up to the carrier will tell OSHA that the climber signed the JHA/CHA that morning. The climber's signature confirms that he/she knew what was being done that day (as well as the risks involved), had been properly trained, and had accepted responsibility. Now liability for the climber's accident is laid squarely at the feet of the climber. As if the liability of death wasn't enough, now their family is left with nothing. No husband/wife, father/mother, boyfriend/girlfriend, son/daughter, uncle/aunt or grandson/granddaughter. My intent is to level the playing field.

In the event of a major accident that results in major injuries or death, there will be an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Our industry is in OSHA's cross-hairs right now, and deservedly so. However, what if you went to a tower a month ago and saw that corrosion had eaten the tower to pieces? You reported it to your boss. More often than not in our industry there are two responses:

1.    “I know it's bad, but if we don't do it, someone else will. We are not giving up our PO because you are scared. Someone has to get this job done so it might as well be us”.
2.    Your boss does take your concern seriously. When he tells his vendor that the tower is unsafe, there is then this conversation. “We will pull this site back from you (your company) and get someone else to do that site and give you another one”.  That, your boss knows, may or may not happen.

I am not going to judge you.  I know the pressures associated with building cell phone sites.  I understand the deadlines and unrealistic expectations of carriers who are not on-site, turf management companies that have requirements that are questionable in theory and ridiculous in practice.  Enormous amounts of pressure are applied daily to your foreman and then on to the guys at elevation.  There has to be recourse and I really just want to be a resource. You can go to https://www.facebook.com/unsafetowers and in the very first post, click on the link that says “Tell me about your unsafe tower”. Or you can just go to http://form.jotform.us/form/42525754737159 and fill out the form there. You can remain completely anonymous in either case. When you click on the submit button at the bottom of the page, I will get an email with all the information you have provided me. The only part of the form that is not really needed is identifying information for the person reporting the unsafe tower and I understand the desire for anonymity.  If you so choose, I can also be reached at unsafetowers@gmail.com. I need as much information as possible to be able to affect change. The truth of the matter is that in the event of an accident, the climber deserves to have OSHA obtain ALL the information relevant to their investigation.  I will post sites that are reported to me online.  Initially, it will be the Facebook page.  Later on I will post them on a website that will be linked to the ‘Unsafe Towers’ Facebook page.  I am in the process of getting http://www.unsafetowers.com up and running.  In the event of a death or an injury, I will contact Bridgette Hester at the Hubble Foundation or Wally Reardon who receives reports of injuries, and determine if the accident occurred at a tower that has been reported to me.  If there is a match, I will notify OSHA of my report. 

This doesn't work without the climbing community. You are the ones who are on these sites.  I know this industry and I know there are going to be those who doubt that anything will come of this.  Rest assured that there are important people who want this information. The day that the Facebook page launched, I received a message from a national director for cell sites at a major carrier. I was told that this is information that he wants but has difficulty getting. I was asked to call or email him if one of their towers was reported. He asked me to notify him immediately. There is a desire for this feedback from you in the field and I need your support to make this work.

            Here is the information I ask for on the form linked above.

1.    What state is the tower in?
2.    Who owns the tower?
3.    How many carriers are on the tower?
4.    Is there a specific way to identify the tower?
5.    Type of tower?
6.    Latitude and Longitude?
7.    Address the crew was given for the site?
8.    What carrier are you working for?
9.    Who issued your PO?
10.  Has your chain of command been notified? (I don’t care either way)
11.  What work were you to perform?
12.  What is the safety issue that   caused concern?
13.  Any additional information?
14.  If you have photos, you can upload those also.

This is information I need if I am going to notify the tower owner/carrier that there is an issue. This is our livelihood and we should demand that we are NOT required to pay for the privilege with our lives.  But, the most important issue remains. If the tower is unsafe, I don’t have the right to NOT report it.  If I walk away from the site, you might pay with your life for my silence.  Due to the extreme dangers that are inherent with this industry, we are truly our brothers' keepers.

My desire is to create a database where we can track towers that for many different reasons are unsafe.  Whether it is splice or stitch bolts, a collar that is peeling off of a tower, or booms that are not able to handle today’s loads, these are all items that require attention.  We are not doing ourselves or our brothers and sisters in the industry any favors by passing the buck.  So, I am asking for your help to make this work.  After all, I wasn’t on your site today, you were.  Your help benefits everyone from the carriers to the climbers.  Let’s work together and change our industry. 
Vern Fitzgerel

Subscribe for Email Updates