In the video below, we take a GoPro camera ride along with a tower climber as he scales to the top of a 1768 foot tall antenna. The worker slowly climbs on increasingly smaller and precarious looking ladder rungs, all while toting a 30 pound tool bag behind him, occasionally assisted by his climbing partner. The video, aptly titled “The most dangerous job in the world,” is stirring up a lot of controversy, especially because it has simply shed light on a profession most people didn’t even know existed. Tower climbers are often hired by cell phone companies to adjust antennas and mechanisms located at the top of their cell towers; they are often required to climb thousands of feet into the air. However, the even scarier part is that in many cases, they do not even use any sort of safety cable.
Tower Climb Video
In the video, a voice over remarks that OSHA regulations allow for this type of “free climbing” method. As it turns out, most experts are confused as to where the video makers got that idea, as there’s nothing to be found in the OSHA guidelines that condones such procedure. In fact, to the contrary, OSHA has published findings highlighting the lethality of this particular profession and method, noting that AT&T alone has had 15 cell tower workers die from falls since data started being collected in 2003. What’s even worse is that sanctions against cell companies have been nearly non-existent, and not once has OSHA gone after the larger providers, despite their high mortality rates. Part of this may be due to a loophole (indeed perhaps the very same one that the video cites as “allowing” for such a dangerous climb) that won’t hold companies liable for the unsafe behavior of independent contractors if they don’t have knowledge of it. In short, a contractor, knowing full well their workers will be free climbing, can simply not communicate to a cell company as such which in turn gives them plausible deniability.
Why Should You Care As A Business Owner?
Not only are these habits extremely dangerous for the workers that are doing the climbing, but many are concerned that videos like this one are creating a mindset that safety isn’t as big of a deal as it actually is. “If someone climbing 2,000 feet in the air doesn’t even attach themselves to a cable, why should I wear glasses while operating a saw? Or wear gloves while operating machinery? Or wear a seat belt when driving a forklift?” And at a glance, they have a point, those activities have much lower fatality rates than free climbing cell towers.
But this kind of thinking can cause your workers to progress down a slippery slope, and you should talk to them about videos like this before those ideas take root. Call a staff meeting to discuss the video and give them the facts they aren’t seeing in the actual footage – the fatality rates, the deeper controversy, the loophole that’s exploited to allow such climbing in the first place, etc.
Admittedly, the video could be “cool,” it’s mind boggling and shocking, and denying that to your employees isn’t doing you any favors. Instead, use to footage intentionally as a talking point.
Don’t Take Shortcuts
In the long run, work conditions like these get brought to the attention of those in charge enough times that they end, usually with the company or companies involved receiving major sanctions. Language in bylaws gets changed as rules evolve. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean that it won’t. This should be enough of a reminder to not take shortcuts and to highlight the importance of a proactive safety culture within your own workplace.