ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Cancel

After a Tower Climber Falls, Stand Down Called for on AT&T Projects

Following a worker’s non-fatal 100-foot fall from a Texas cell tower last week, one of AT&T’s construction management firms has instituted a stand down across several states, requiring that its subcontractors review safety practices.

.

One of AT&T's construction management firms has instituted a stand down after a worker suffered a non-fatal 100-foot fall.

This story was co-published with PBS Frontline.

Following a worker’s non-fatal 100-foot fall from a Texas cell tower last week, one of AT&T’s construction management firms has instituted a stand down across several states, requiring that its subcontractors review safety practices.

Plano, Texas-based Goodman Networks sent out a bulletin yesterday notifying workers of the mandatory safety stand down.

“This bulletin is being issued as a reminder of the dangers involved in our industry and to remind all of our employees and contractor personnel of the importance of planning safety into every project,” it said.

Tower climbing -- a tiny field of about 10,000 workers who build and maintain TV, radio and cell towers – is among the nation’s most dangerous jobs, with a fatality rate roughly 10 times higher than the construction industry.

An investigation published this week by ProPublica and PBS “Frontline” found that nearly 100 tower climbers died between 2003 and 2011, 50 of them working on cell sites. AT&T had 15 fatalities on its jobs in that period, more than its three closest competitors combined, our reporting showed.

Goodman Networks, one of several firms that manage cell construction projects for AT&T, confirmed the stand down was taking place, but would not comment further on its action.

The bulletin says that by May 29, all Goodman subcontractors must certify they have had their employees review a Powerpoint presentation on safety and have reminded workers to inspect and use fall protection gear.

Because it comes during the Memorial Day weekend, when carriers typically do little tower work, the stand down is unlikely to delay AT&T service upgrades, industry sources said.

Some tower company owners expressed displeasure with the timing, however, as well as the requirements that Goodman has imposed on subcontractors.

“This is Memorial Day, and it’s a time when we’re supposed to be … with our families,” said Ed Dennis, a safety director at tower construction company Com-Tech Services. “If they really meant it, they should conduct the training themselves, on their dime.”

AT&T ordered a similar stand down in 2008, after two tower climbers died on its projects.

The company would not answer questions about the current stand down, issuing a statement similar to the one it has given ProPublica and PBS “Frontline” for previous stories saying that AT&T outsources tower work “to expert companies, many of which are large publicly traded firms with decades of experience.”

“Worker safety has always been a hallmark of AT&T," the statement says.

According to a report on WirelessEstimator.com, the climber who fell from the cell site in Austin, Texas is 31-year-old Shad Lierley. His current condition is unknown.

(Efficency) is what it is about at AT&T. Whatever company the the 31 year old was working for, it was AT&T’s rules. Efficency first safety a distant second. They claim they want you to be safe however you have a time limit for each job. Don’t go over the time limit if you want to keep your job!

So, their “solution” is to give everybody the holiday weekend off that they already had off, then blame the contractors for AT&T hiring them.

Yeah, that sounds like the AT&T I know.  They may not be a monopoly anymore, but the market is structured in such a way that they can act it with no repercussions.

The efficiency razor can cut in both directions.  It is a matter of law.  Laws have been written to protect workers in a variety of industries.  Some such laws prevent the actual responsible company from side stepping out of responsibility.  See industries covered under the Railway Labor Act.  Of course that hasn’t kept corporations from termiting tunnels in the law to escape the standards that already exist.  These termiting of the law has been aided by Judicial Activism self defined as conservative.

I have observed that when ever labor and those that support the right of workers to fundamental justice are attacked, one is wise to look at the subject of the attack, as that is exactly what the attackers are doing themselves.  Accuse, scream, shout, foam at the mouth attack Judicial Activism as a tool of workers, liberals and other such subhuman groups, when that is exactly what the foamers are doing ‘hammer and tong’ behind the scenes.

The worlds greatest safety charades are played out daily in the work place.  The proof is in the brutal vengeance seeking effort to utterly destroy whistlers blowers and yellow journalists who dare to tell the truth.

Make that “Whistle Blowers”.

Barbara Zotti

May 29, 2012, 6:51 p.m.

I watched the Frontline show this morning. I found the information provided incredible!!!  I was taken aback by the fact that OSHA has only issued one citation.  The reasons given were….too many companies down the line from AT&T to know who is responsible @#$%$#@#$%^  Really?  My answer:  every company top to bottom…right down to the company that actually does the work is responsible.    AT&T should be the at the helm for the safety requirements and its requirements should be incorporated down the line for each company involved.  It doesn’t matter that one of the companies “just hires another to do the work.”  Furthermore, how in the world are the “tower walkers” only worth $10.00/hourly?  Again, really?  !@*&^%@*&^%@......This job should be on the “deadliest occupation” list.  And, life insurance policies should be one of the benefits for which the company pays.  All companies should contribute to the premium all the way to the top at AT&T.

i worked high, but the big guys, high steel walkers, American Indians, where are they in all this? any advice?

Barbara, that’s exactly it.  When you hire a contractor, the first death can be the contractor’s fault.  The next time it happens, everybody in the chain who didn’t show due diligence to ensure it wouldn’t happen again should be responsible, because ignorance at that point is intentional.

Think about loaning a car.  If I lend out my car, the brakes fail, and a pedestrian dies, I’m probably not responsible.  However, if I don’t fix the car and lend it out again…?

Get Updates

Stay on top of what we’re working on by subscribing to our email digest.

optional

Our Hottest Stories

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •