Tower Climber Fatality Numbers Call for Scrutiny of Contractor Safety

Between 2003 and 2011, approximately 100 tower climbers died in workplace accidents while working on maintenance of cell phone, radio and other network towers.  Approximately 50% of these workers were working on cell phone tower sites.  Yet, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found itself powerless to take action. Most of these workers are employed by contracting companies, and not directly by the cell phone carriers, which means that their rights to workers compensation are very limited.

Some telecommunications companies seem to be more prone to tower climber-related accidents than others.  For instance, AT&T had a total of 15 fatalities between 2003 and 2011.  That was at least 3 times higher than three of its closest competitors combined.

Cell phone companies do not employ these tower climbers directly.  They do so through contractors, minimizing their liability in the event of an accident.  This is probably done because the risk of death in these occupations is so high.  Considering the high risk of falls in this occupation, carriers likely do not want their brand names to be sullied through association with a higher number of worker fatalities. As a result, none of these fatalities turn up against the companies’ names in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration database.

Unfortunately, such sneaky practices by cell phone carriers are widespread in the United States.  Employers prefer not to take on any risk by contracting workers through subcontractors when there is dangerous work involved.  As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration finds itself powerless to take any action against employers, because they are not listed as employers at all.  When workers who work for contracting companies are injured in accidents, they may have no rights to compensation under workers compensation laws.