Journalism in the Public Interest

Methodology: How We Calculated the Tower Industry Death Rate

How we calculated deaths per 100,000 workers for the tower industry using OSHA’s methodology.

Photo by Wally Reardon

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which calculates annual fatality rates for a range of industries, does not have a standard code for tower climbing and, thus, does not compile uniform data on tower workers' fatality rates.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration calculated the fatality rate for tower workers in 2008, setting out its methodology in draft reports and presentations produced as part of a joint safety initiative by OSHA and the tower industry. ProPublica and PBS "Frontline" obtained these records.

OSHA estimated that in 2008 there were 8,695 tower workers, the records show. Based on this estimate and the number of fatalities that occurred in 2008, OSHA calculated deaths per 100,000 workers for the tower industry for that year. OSHA also compared its 2008 fatality rate for the tower industry with that of the construction industry, finding the tower industry’s rate was substantially higher than the average rate for construction occupations in the U.S.

We used OSHA’s methodology to calculate deaths per 100,000 workers for the tower industry for each year from 2003 to 2010. We found an average fatality rate of 123.6 per 100,000 workers for the tower industry during this period. Over the same time span, government data shows the fatality rate in the construction industry was 10.7 per 100,000 workers. The average annual fatality rate for the tower industry was more than 10 times greater than that of the construction industry.

Deaths per 100,000 workers
Year Tower deaths Towers Construction

Average Death Rate per 100,000 Workers, from 2003-10

Tower industry 123.6
Construction industry 10.7

yes, i watched this on Frontline last night. as a sign installer and electrician, i am not at all surprised by the death rate considering that there are so many un trained people and that their gear is old.

with OSHA unable to do anything to the owners of the towers, there isn’t anything one can do.

it is SHOCKING that there are so many levels of sub-contractors that it resembled what is going on in Iraq.  it is just so AMERIKAN how subcons who do absolutely NOTHING take a HUGE cut of the monetary pie that there is NOTHING LEFT FOR PAY, OR SAFETY GEAR. THE USA STANDS FOR MONEY OVER ALL.

Can you imagine? Working on a 200 foot tower in rain snow wind for TEN DOLLARS AN HOUR????  those workers are INSANE to even take a job like that for $10/hr.

This horror could be rectified in 5 minutes if the whore Congress would pass legislation specifying the responsibility and specifying what personal equipment must be provided.

Then the Big Boys on top could no longer say ““who, me???” and so on down the line of contractors and sub-sub-sub-contractors, down to the poor SOBs that take these jobs because they have to.
And have to rush at the expense of safety to satisfy their immediate boss who has to satisfy THEIR immediate boss, and so on up the line to the suits in the boardroom.

The OSHA guy came off pretty awful in the Frontline interview. But then, OSHA has always been the ugly sister—never adequately funded; always saddled with poorly enforced rules covering, inter alia, LIFE SAVING EQUIPMENT!!  We are savages, compared with most other “developed” countries that protect human life.  Here, the almighty dollar comes first.

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