May 30, 2008 The Pump Handle 1Comment

From April 12 to May 22, seven workers have been killed while working on antenna towers, many of which service our wireless communication system.  One worker was killed in Wake Forest, NC; another in San Antonio; a third was killed in Frisco, NC; another in Moorcroft, WY; a fifth man was killed in Natchez, MS; another in Haubstadt, Indiana; and the 7th worker was killed near Miami.  All seven workers fell from elevations.  

I was alerted to this troubling trend on the website Wireless Estimator and in an article “Fatal Bandwidth” (Fortune, May 28, 2008 ) in which writer Philip Elmer-DeWitt comments:

“There’s a price to pay for the wireless networks we take for granted.”

Reading the limited information about these workers’ deaths indicates the fall protection programs failed to prevent these fatalities. 

Craig Lekutis, President of  Wireless Estimator, who was a founding director of the National Association of Tower Erectors and has 25 years of experience in the industry has launched the “Tower Climbers Hall of Shame” to draw attention to both the companies and the employees who demonstrate their carelessness.  He writes:

“In the tower industry, people die from falling. The indisputable cause: blunt trauma. The irrefutable cure: 100% tie off and proper training.  Company managers and their employees know this.  So why do some technicians not practice 100% tie off?  It could be bravado, a false sense of security, a youthful belief of immortality. Others believe that pricing pressures are at fault.”

“The answer might be that tighter supervision on all levels of the industry is needed to ensure that climbers tie off 100% of the time.  It’s not being done.  And the industry knows it, but will not dedicate the manpower and the inherent cost to do it.

Lekutis displays a  photo on his website (5/9/08 post), taken a week earlier somewhere in the State of Oklahoma.  He writes:

“These two technicians are not employees of Bubba’s Bucket and Rope LLC.  They are employed by a company that has multiple crews and has been serving major tower companies and carriers for years. The employees know better than this.  Their company knows better than this.  But here we have two young men, without a hard hat, hat appear to care less about their safety and are free climbing because the structure doesn’t have a safety climb.  Neither tech is wearing his Y-lanyard to ensure 100% fall protection as required by law. The only false sense of protection they have is their positioning lanyard.”

Lekutis awards them his first “Tower Climbers Hall of Shame.”  He says:

“We’d rather have the two climbers almost drown in their own pool of embarrassment, rather than audition for [a] fatality.”

Indeed.  Given Mr. Lekutis’ knowledge of the industry, I hope after receiving the photograph, he promptly got on the phone and awarded the “Tower Climbers Hall of Shame” mini-casket (or whatever the trophy) directly to the service company’s president.  

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear this company president now announce that they are immediately hiring and dedicating the necessary personnel to ensure 100% fall protection all the time, at every jobsite.  

I provide below a little information about the seven workers killed while working on antenna towers during April and May 2008.  I couldn’t help but notice how many of these men died far away from their hometowns, and made me think about the additional burdens, strains and expenses placed on family members by an “out-of-State” workplace fatality.  In the 42-day period between April 12 and May 22, the following antenna climber/technicians died on the job:

Darren Joe Reed, employed by Structural Systems Technology (McLean, Virginia) died at the Channel 7 WSVN antenna farm near Miami, Florida on May 22.  Federal OSHA is investigating.

Jonathan Guilford, 25, of Fort Payne, Alabama was killed at a job in Haubstadt, Indiana on May 16.  He fell 100 feet.  He was employed by All Around Tower, working on an AT&T project.  IN-OSHA is investigating.

Mark Haynes, 31, of Griffin, Georgia was killed at a job in Natchez, Mississippi on April 23.  He is survived by his wife and two daughters.  He was employed by Overland Contracting, Inc of Black & Veatch Company.  Federal OSHA is investigating.

William Edward Bernard Jr., 46, of Chesapeake, Virginia was killed at a job in Frisco, NC on April 17.  He was employed by Brook Hill Communication; NC-OSHA is investigating.

James Daryl Friesenhaun, 38, was killed at a job in San Antonio on April 15.  He fell 200 feet.  He is survived by his mothe Candance Friesenhaun and four siblings.  He was employed by Ransor Incorporated, doing work for the City of San Antonio’s CPS Energy.  Federal OSHA is investigating.

An unnamed worker employed by Cornerstone Tower (Grand Island, NE) was killed at a job in Moorcroft, WY on April 14.  (WY-OSHA is investigating but would not released the victim’s name until the investigation is complete.  The company’s human resource office did not answer its phone.)

Charles Wade Lupton, 34, of Midwest City, OK was killed at a job in Wake Forest, NC on April 12.  He fell 150 feet.  He was employed by MJM Group; NC-OSHA is investigating.

By October 2008, most of these fatality investigations will be complete.  I plan to report back on the findings of the respective State and federal investigations.


One thought on “April-May 2008: Deadly for Antenna Tower Workers

  1. Tower Climber Jobs

    While it is true that it is the responsibility of the tower climber to practice safety, good judgement, take every precaution and stay focused, among other things, one of the proactive steps that tower climbers can take is to exercise their rights as employees. Have you wondered why there is not a union that is organized to protect the human rights of these workers that just want to make a fair and honest living?

    There needs to be a leader or a team of leaders, someone that will stand up to adversity because these are troubled times. When workers come together they will have one voice to represent all of them about these important matters: life and death.

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