OSHA Issues New Directive for Communication Tower Workers

By Roy Maurer Jul 30, 2014

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has updated its enforcement policy on the use of hoist systems to move workers up and down communication towers to include all tower work, not just new tower construction.

The update is the latest in a series of actions OSHA has taken to highlight communication tower safety after an increase in injuries and fatalities at tower worksites since 2013.

“More fatalities occurred in this industry in 2013 than in the previous two years combined. This disturbing trend appears to be continuing, with nine worker deaths occurring so far in 2014,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, in a news release.

“This directive ensures that communication tower workers are protected regardless of the type of the work they are doing.”

The directive updates a 2002 policy, which only covered the hoisting of workers to workstations during new tower erection activities. The updated policy covers any work on a communication tower—including both maintenance and new construction—that involves the use of a hoist to lift workers from one elevated workstation to another.

The new rules also outline the proper use of hoist and other fall arrest systems, and include detailed information on how to hoist workers safely. “Many employees do not know how to use the systems properly,” OSHA said.

The agency collaborated with industry stakeholders before updating the policy, achieving their buy-in. “OSHA’s directive is a milestone in our efforts to promote worker safety,” the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) said in a news release. NATE acknowledged that being able to safely hoist workers up and down towers will reduce worker fatigue and susceptibility to repetitive motion injuries associated with ascending and descending towers via ladders.

The directive also outlines key compliance training guidelines for employers, including:

  • Hoist operators must be trained on the entire hoist system, including classroom instruction and a minimum of 40 hours of experience as a hoist operator.
  • Workers being hoisted must have received fall protection training and know how to safely move up and down the tower.

Next Steps

OSHA plans to issue a request for information later this year on ways the agency could improve communication tower safety through the development of a new standard.

An industry consensus standard covering tower construction, maintenance and demolition is also in the works.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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