In April-May 2008, there were a spate of fatalities involving workers doing installations or maintenance on cell phone towers. I blogged about seven of these worker deaths and promised to report back on the outcome of the Federal or State OSHA investigations. Of the seven fatal incidents, three resulted in informal settlements of serious violations with penalties ranging from $2,100 to $4,900; and two investigations resulted in no citations or penalties, with one of these cases closed just two days after the worker’s death. For another, I was unable to locate any data about the incident using OSHA’s on-line establishment search tool. The details of six of the incidents appear at the end of this post. The most complete information I can provide relates to the fatal fall on May 16, 2008 of Mr. Jonathan Guilford, 25, who was employed by Phoenix of Tennessee, dba All About Towers. The information comes from documents provided by Indiana OSHA (IOSHA) which I requested under the State’s Access to Public Records Act. It took a few back-and-forths and about 90 days to receive the information.
The 36 pages of IOSHA’s fatality investigation, citations and penalties reveal many troubling details about the working conditions for Mr. Guilford and his co-workers. This includes that the surviving workers
“were fired” because they “did not look after each other.” [see page 20]
This revelation came after I’d just read in the inspector’s notes about the employer’s failure to provide appropriate climbing and rigging equipment. The hook used by Mr. Guilford
“was missing the safety latch (‘keeper’)” and the equipment rope “was routinely used for moving material up/down the tower and was not suitable for life safety purposes.” [see page 7, page 19]
[This employer’s disregard for safety grossly overshadows any claim that the worker simply “didn’t look out for each other.”]
As the IOSHA inspector reiterated in his notes:
“Equipment ropes are used for material, safety ropes are used for people. Period.” [see page 19]
A company supervisor reported to the CSHO:
“The day after Jay’s fall, the company sent me to all of the other tower sites in this market to check for and remove bad climbing and rigging equipment. I found several hooks with missing keepers.” [see page 20]
And another worker stated:
“I know what happened. I bet he [deceased worker Guilford] used the bad hook—you know, the one with the missing gate.” [see page 20]
When asked by the investigator, ‘how come it was available for use’?
“It was just hanging on the hook in the trailer.”
Tell me: How does a company that specializes in communication tower construction and services—climbing and working hundreds of feet off the ground—fail to have an exceptional fall protection program??
This particular cell-tower site was rented to corporate giant AT&T which hired General Dynamics to oversee the upgrade of the tower equipment. Wouldn’t you think that AT&T and General Dynamics would have taken steps to ensure that Phoenix of Tennessee, dba All About Towers, had an A+ fall protection program and a Five-Star H&S system??
Well, General Dynamics’ lack of attention to safety on the front-end of this project was not repeated when it came to attention to the IOSHA investigation of Mr. Guilford’s fatal fall. During IOSHA CSHO’s opening conference, there were four officials from General Dynamics as well as one rep from All Around Tower and the property owner [page 30]. Likewise, General Dynamics’ officials participated three months later in IOSHA’s closing conference. [No worker reps are listed on the attendance sheet. The employees of All Around Tower were not represented by a labor organization, and the documents don’t indicate how (or if) workers were notified of their right to participate in these official briefings.]
The company, Phoenix of Tennessee, dba All About Towers, received four serious violations of safety standards related to safety belts, lifelines and lanyards; safety nets; and rigging equipment. The unadjusted monetary penalty was $20,000 but because the firm’s size and history, received a 50% penalty reduction for an assessed penalty of $10,000. Through a settlement agreement, three of the four violations were deleted and the penalty reduced to $2,500. Neither the information I received from IOSHA, nor the OSHA on-line summary indicates what the employer has done to ensure that this gross disregard for workers’ safety never happens again.
My final revelation from the documents provided by IOSHA comes from the OSHA 300A form [page 14]. The company’s DART rate for 2007 was 1.8. What happens to the employer’s DART rate because of a fatality? As far as I can tell looking at OSHA’s injury recordkeeping system, a fatality counts as a single incident with no extra days “lost” figured into the rate. If DART rates are used by companies [and even OSHA] as a measure of an employer’s injury prevention program, shouldn’t a few thousand lost workdays be charged against the company’s rate? For example, an old Bureau of Mines guidance document assessed 6,000 days to a fatality or case of permanent disability. As it stands under the current DART calculation system, a prospective employee, contractor or member of the public could be substantially deceived by today’s DART rates exclude these most severe of all injuries.
As noted above, here is additional information on the six fatalities of cell-tower workers that occurred in April-May 2008:
**Darren Joe Reed, employed by Structural Systems Technology (McLean, Virginia) died at the Channel 7 WSVN antenna farm near Miami, Florida on May 22. The OSHA on-line summary for this incident tells us that the firm was cited for two serious violations of fall protection standards and assessed a $9,800 penalty. Through an informal settlement agreement, the penalty was reduced to $4,900. The OSHA site does not indicate what the employer has done to ensure the future safety and health of their employees and contractors.
**Mark Haynes, 31, of Griffin, Georgia was killed at a job in Natchez, Mississippi on April 23. He was employed by Overland Contracting, Inc of Black & Veatch Company. The OSHA on-line summary for this incident tells us that no citations or penalties were assessed following OSHA’s investigation.
**James Daryl Friesenhaun, 38, fatally fell 200 feet on April 15, 2008 at a job for the City of San Antonio’s CPS Energy. He was employed by Ransor Incorporated. The OSHA on-line summary for this incident tells us that OSHA closed its investigation after two days, and no citatons or penalties were assessed. [Was Mr. Friesenhaun considered a public sector employee, and therefore federal OSHA didn’t have authority to investigate his work-related death?]
**An unnamed worker employed by Cornerstone Tower of Grand Island, NE was killed at a job in Moorcroft, WY on April 14. The OSHA on-line summary for this incident tells us that WY-OSHA cited the employer for two serious violations of fall protection standards and assessed a $5,000 penalty.
**Charles Wade Lupton, 34, of Midwest City, OK was fell 150 to his death at a job in Wake Forest, NC on April 12. He was employed by MJM Group. The OSHA on-line summary for this incident tells us that NC-OSHA cited the employer for two serious violations and assessed a $4,200 penalty. Through an informal settlement, one of the violations was deleted and the penalty was reduced to $2,100. The summary does not indicate what the employer has done to ensure the future safety and health of their employees and contractors.
**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. I have been unable to locate information on OSHA’s on-line “Establishment Search” page about the status of this fatality investigation.