OSHA Releases Communication Tower Request for Information

Date: Apr 17, 2015

Continuing its efforts to address hazards associated with communications tower construction, servicing, and maintenance, on April 15, 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) published in the Federal Register in the a Request for Information (“RFI”) to determine what regulatory changes, if any, need to be adopted to improve the safety in the industry.  See 80 Fed. Reg. 20185 (Apr. 15, 2015).

OSHA reports that there have been approximately 107 incidents involving communication tower employees over the past decade.  OSHA’s records indicate that these incidents resulted in 91 fatalities, with 2013 having the highest number of fatalities involving communication tower employees.  There were 12 in 2014.  The majority of fatalities resulted from falls as employees built and performed routine maintenance on towers that can reach over 1000 feet.  OSHA’s web page has more details: Communication Towers, https://www.osha.gov/doc/topics/communicationtower/index.html.

OSHA identified a number hazards to which communication tower employees may be exposed, including falls, exposure to radio frequency radiation, inclement weather, and electrical hazards.  OSHA also considers fatigue to be a factor, given the rapidly increasing demand for telecommunications and broadband services.  There are various OSHA standards in place to protect tower employees from some of these hazards (e.g., the Telecommunications Standard at 29 CFR 1910.268, the Construction Industry Fall Protection Standard at 29 C.F.R. 1926, subpart M, and 29 CFR 1910.147, Control of Hazardous Energy), and the General Duty Clause under Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm to its employees.  OSHA believes that its “standards do not provide comprehensive coverage of communication tower construction activities.” 

The RFI seeks general information in three areas: (1) the types of hazards to which employees are exposed; (2) the types of incidents that result from such exposure; and (3) any methods that can address those hazards.  OSHA wants information from tower owners and climbers outlined in 38 primary questions and 21 follow up questions.

This RFI is the first step in a rulemaking process.  OSHA states that responses from affected stakeholders will enable OSHA to focus on the scope and specific safety and health issues of communication tower hazards.  Should OSHA decide to propose changes to existing standards or to adopt a specific standard on communications tower maintenance, OSHA would open a formal rulemaking proceeding with publication of a proposed rule in the Federal Register before issuing a final rule.  The RFI gives affected parties, such as wireless carriers, engineering firms, tower owners, and tower construction and maintenance companies the opportunity to assist OSHA in developing a better understanding of the industry and its challenges.  Comments are due by June 15, 2015. 

Keller and Heckman LLP will host a webinar on safety and health topics for tower industry members and discuss this rulemaking process at 1:00 PM EDT on April 22, 2015.  To register for this webinar, click here.

For additional information, please contact David Sarvadi (sarvadi@khlaw.com; 202.434.4249), Manesh Rath (rath@khlaw.com; 202.434.4182), or Michael T. Fitch (fitch@khlaw.com; 202.434.4264), or OSHAlaw@khlaw.com.