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AT&T Businesses Cellphones Networking Wireless Networking

A New Spate of Deaths In the Wireless Industry 247

Posted by timothy
from the tough-line-of-work dept.
onehitwonder writes "The race to build out advanced cellphone networks in the U.S. has contributed to a spike in deaths among tower workers, making this one of the industry's deadliest years and drawing fresh scrutiny from federal regulators, according to The Wall Street Journal. At least 10 workers have died in falls from communication towers so far this year, and three more were seriously injured. The accidents, nine of which were related to cellphone network work, come during one of the biggest building booms in years, as Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. ramp up major network upgrades in an attempt to catch up with Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc."
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A New Spate of Deaths In the Wireless Industry

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  • So (Score:5, Funny)

    by jkflying (2190798) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @10:35AM (#44643367)

    Cellphones ARE deadly after all! /s

  • What the fudge.. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    10 died this year, that's nothing. In the UK 3 people die each year testing if a 9v battery works on their tongue. 19 people have died in the last 3 years believing that Christmas decorations were chocolate.

    It's not exactly a huge shockwave out of the 313 Million people in America.. wondering why this story even made it here.

    • by amiga3D (567632) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @10:45AM (#44643521)

      Because every life is precious.

    • Care to explain how a 9V battery can kill someone, other than by trying to ingest it?

      • by qwijibo (101731) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @10:50AM (#44643607)

        Probably gross stupidity. Could be people tried to swallow the 9V battery because it was tingly and it got lodged in their throat, or maybe they didn't understand the concept of a 9V battery and instead tested a 9mm handgun with their tongue. All things that have 9 in the name are the same, right? =)

      • blood contact and getting current across the heart can do it (but in most cases your heart can be restarted)

        the difference between a 9 volt source killing you and a 9K volt source killing you is how "crispy" your remains are

      • by compro01 (777531)

        A 9V battery can (briefly) supply several amps of current if shorted. Even just a small fraction of that going along the wrong path can wreck your heart rhythm.

        • by operagost (62405)
          That would be a problem if you tested it by wetting your chest and placing the leads across your heart, I guess.
        • by dywolf (2673597)

          still cant possibly see how the "shortest/least resistive" path could possibly be through the heart when both contacts are on the tongue.

          • by qwijibo (101731)

            We're not talking rocket surgeons here. It's simple, these people had alligator clips, swallowed one end, had it tear through the esophagus, got wedged near the heart, then the battery contacted the tongue on one side and the other alligator clip on the other side, making the heart part of the path of least resistance. It's Occam's razor here - the simplest, most obvious answer is probably correct.

          • by qwijibo (101731)

            Sorry, I forgot one other possible, obvious reason - the person licked a 9V battery instead of handing over their wallet during a mugging, and was shot. Cause of death is the gunshot wound, but how negligent would the coroner be if they did not conclude that licking the 9V battery was the proximate cause of death?

    • by aitikin (909209) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @10:59AM (#44643733)
      FTA:

      OSHA has estimated there are roughly 10,000 workers in the U.S. communication tower industry. Ten deaths may not seem like a huge number, but it is enough proportionally to rank the industry among the deadliest in the country.

      So every one in one thousand dies on the job. I'd say that's a pretty high mortality rate for the US.

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @11:49AM (#44644397) Homepage

      It's not exactly a huge shockwave out of the 313 Million people in America.. wondering why this story even made it here.

      Because a person shouldn't have to take completely unnecessary risks in order to make a living, all so that a major publicly traded company can save a few bucks.

      • What exactly are you implying? Were they forced up a tower at gun point? Are you saying out of the thousand of workers who regularly climb towers and don't fall and injure themselves, these 10 workers were denied proper safety training and equipment?

        It's a bit hard to determine why it happened, but please don't just assume it was just so that companies can make a few extra bucks, and i won't just assume it's because of gross negligence on the part of the worker.

        • by geek (5680)

          What exactly are you implying? Were they forced up a tower at gun point?

          "Jackson! Head up that fucking pole and meet your god damned quota or I fire your ass and your kids starve next week!"

          We saw this same shit with truck drivers driving while tired and killing people. Being fired from your job and facing financial hardships is far more traumatic than having a gun drawn on you.

          • so then unionize.
            Or have they been too demonized that even though they fight for working conditions, safety and pay by grouping everyone together, you'd rather go solo and leave it up to the company you work for who's sole interest is making the most money?
            Hmm, choices...

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      how do you die by putting a 9v on your tongue?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 22, 2013 @10:41AM (#44643461)

    This isn't anything new. If you have worked in the industry, you know about it. The pressure and competition from cell providers to lower the cost of erecting and maintaining towers has pushed the safety margins to very thin levels. Guys climb with gear far beyond their service life and are asked to work lots of hours.

    Frontline covered this last summer, I think it provides a good summary if you don't know about the topic:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/cell-tower-deaths/ [pbs.org]

    • by amiga3D (567632) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @10:49AM (#44643579)

      I agree that happens but in my experience the number one problem is people get complacent. I've come close a couple of times to falling off stands and both times it was simply complacency. You do something long enough and you loose respect for how quickly you can get hurt or die. I've seen people do some of the stupidest stuff too. Many are just plain careless. If anything I'm shocked the number isn't higher.

  • by Russ1642 (1087959) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @10:41AM (#44643465)

    How do you forget to clip on? Even after a decade working in the job how could you possibly forget? It's like forgetting to wait for the cross signal and just walking out into traffic.

    • It's like forgetting to wait for the cross signal and just walking out into traffic.

      And you think people don't do that too?

    • by compro01 (777531) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @10:57AM (#44643705)

      How do you forget to clip on?.

      "working 12- or 16-hour days"
      "haven't taken days off in weeks"

      Exhaustion results in errors.

    • by the_other_chewey (1119125) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @11:13AM (#44643911)

      How do you forget to clip on? Even after a decade working in the job how could you possibly forget? It's like forgetting to wait for the cross signal and just walking out into traffic.

      Apparently, it is accepted not to clip on at all [youtube.com].

    • Simple,
      After many decades of doing your job, your fear of heights goes down to near 0. So you just don't think of it as a major thing to remember or forget.
      I sometimes forget my glasses, or something else I do every day, just because I don't rate it as a high priority thing.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      How do you forget to clip on?

      People don't forget this ... usually they decide it's too inconvenient and don't bother. People just get complacent over time.

      But, I believe there are some exceptions where you don't need to be clipped in because there are other risks involved. Something about moving yourself and your tools making situations in which people are allowed to not be clipped in. And I'm pretty sure this kind of tower might be one of those.

    • I know an injection molding machine operator that likes to change heater band fuses with the heaters still on (220Volts).

      He is an _idiot_, but it's not like he doesn't know not to do that. It's not like we haven't yelled at him/threatened to fire him. If I see that again he's gone and he knows it.

      I asked his kids to talk to him about it. Maybe they will get through to him. All that means is he will find something else stupid to do.

      Lots of dangerous things really have low odds of killing you. Doesn't

  • by jddj (1085169) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @10:43AM (#44643487) Journal

    A Frontline documentary [pbs.org] last year noted that tower work is done by small contracting companies that allow the big carriers to duck all responsibility, while pushing the firms to build so fast that safety gets shortcutted. Worth watching.

    • by cdrudge (68377)

      Around here most, but not all, of the towers aren't even owned by the cell companies. They are owned by private companies and then are leased to the cell companies. While the need for the non-cellco owned tower is created by the cell phone company, they don't operate the tower, they didn't finance it, so how exactly are they responsible for it?

    • A Frontline documentary [pbs.org] last year noted that tower work is done by small contracting companies that allow the big carriers to duck all responsibility, while pushing the firms to build so fast that safety gets shortcutted. Worth watching.

      Gee, I wonder http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walmart [wikipedia.org] where they got that idea?

  • So apparently spate == 10.

    Good to know!
  • by drerwk (695572) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @10:45AM (#44643523) Homepage
    I'm ok till 1:40.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWxOx2eSqdo [youtube.com] Free climbing is allowed by OSHA rules - per comments around 2:00.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm ok till 1:40. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWxOx2eSqdo [youtube.com] Free climbing is allowed by OSHA rules - per comments around 2:00.

      Don't be silly. Of course it doesn't [safetynewsalert.com].

    • by compro01 (777531)

      Free climbing is not allowed, but the penalties issued for violating those rules don't even amount to a weregild, so they get freely ignored.

  • Safety harness... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dywolf (2673597) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @10:45AM (#44643529)

    ...there for a reason.

    From TFA: "Constantly attaching and reattaching a safety harness as climbers move about the tower can cut into speed." and "One project manager said crews are working 12- or 16-hour days and, when they get tired, forget to clip on safety lines or clip them on improperly."

    So then the important question is whether the company is inducing this, or are the workers bringing on themselves? What I mean is, what are the comapnies policies? Are they good policies? Are they being ignored by workers trying to get more hours (for a bigger paycheck)? Do the companies even adress such things as maximum hours worked for fear of fatigue/safety? Is there pressure from the company to work more hours with fewer people?

    I bring up the workers cause at my company there are people who wouldn't hesitate to work 16 hours days for the bigger check, and have actively fought agaisnt hiring more people because it would cut into their overtime as it is. luckily fatigue here isnt really going to be fatal; just cuts into profits.

    Personally, if it's my life on the line, I got no interest in meeting the big guy this early in my existence. My debts arent so bad that I need to risk my life to pay them off. And when I interviewed for a job working on wind turbines (that I ended up turning down the offer for when it came) one of my first questions was about their safety policies, along the lines of the questions i posed above.

    • by Russ1642 (1087959)

      When it comes to something like this the workers are ultimately responsible. If your boss was pressuring you so much that you felt like not tying off was the best solution then you're an idiot. If your boss actually tells you not to tie off to save time, and you do it, then you're an idiot and he's a criminal.

      • by dywolf (2673597)

        my concern wasnt along those lines. as you say, thats blatantly illegal.i cant really think a company would be so stupid (but then ive been surprised before) as to pressure people to simply ignore best safety practices. the penalties are simply too huge.

        my thinking was more along what the article was saying, where workers are working long hours and from fatigue either forgetting to clip on, or clipping on improperly. i mean i understand contracts and deadlines, and the realities therein. so im kinda thinkin

        • Re:Safety harness... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by dbc (135354) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @11:30AM (#44644135)

          I'm a ham, so I spend a lot of time climbing my own towers. (You couldn't pay me enough to do it for a living.) In my experience, when planning a job, I figure anything that takes one hour on the ground takes four hours in the air, at least for me. I also am careful to "do the same thing the same way every time". for example, when repositioning my work positioning belt, I use my right hand to unclip and move the left belt clip. Repeating a motion drives it into muscle memory so that mistakes are less likely to happen. I can tell you that I still goof once in a while (there are certain operations, like moving my positing belt, that I always double check.) Occasionally, I work with another man on the tower, which would be common for pros. The added distraction of having another person with you can cause you to forget steps. If you add some time pressure, its easy to forget to double check steps.

          I've met pro tower riggers. I hire pros for work that is outside my comfort zone. They free climb much more than I would, but I'm a chicken and rig a 100% contact lifeline for most jobs. I suspect most accidents don't come from the free climbing phase of the work, because there your mind is focused on just climbing. I'd guess that accidents happen when you think you are solidly positioned with work belt, and actually are mis-rigged. I always lean into a work belt before letting go with my hands just to make sure there isn't any surprise slack. Sometimes there is....

          So, nobody is perfect -- everybody forgets steps for things they've done many times. Tell me you've never started your coffee maker without coffee in it, at least once. That's a good rule to remember in the air, especially if there are any distractions or unusual circumstances. Time pressure works against doing all those double checks.

          One tool I have that I've never seen a pro use is a temporary life line. I have a line that I rig to the top of the tower on the first trip up, and tie off at the bottom. A trailing clutch grip that follows me up, but requires being gripped to slide down is always attached. Once in that rig, I'm never disconnected from the tower. It's not good for work positioning, and if I ever slip I'm still a yo-yo swinging on a 3 foot string, so I'll collect a nice set of bruises from banging into the tower, but the trip to the ground will be deferred. The pros that have seen that usually comment to the effect that it must slow me down a lot. I. Don't. Care.

          • I did it for a living and, like you, I had a policy of 100% contact. I have kids, and I'd much rather them see me die of old age.

            • by dywolf (2673597)

              see, i'm with you guys. im too young to go yet. but ive also not yet done it for a living (like said, turned done that wind turbine job in the end)

              the GP mention being a ham, my grandfather is too. he's got an ~80' tower. i once climbed it as a teen, but stupidly was just for thrills and to see from the top. he caught me at it, chewed me out, then taught me what he knew bout climbing (he was a lineman for Ma Bell for >30 years). and then put me to work that summer working on it. but i got a real good app

      • by TheNastyInThePasty (2382648) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @11:20AM (#44643995)
        Your boss will not tell you explicitly not to tie off. He'll tell you that if you don't work faster, they will fire you and find someone who can. Eventually you find people desperate enough for money that they're willing to risk life and limb for it.
    • Having spent 7 years climbing towers, I can say that the first requirement to tower climbing should be a fear of heights. More specifically, fear of falling to an ooey-gooey death. Anyone not sufficiently afraid to climb will not be sufficiently diligent in maintaining safe conditions.

      When getting started, I was petrified to climb - to the point of - literally - quaking in my boots. A gust of wind would make me clutch the tower for dear life. When I was finished with a climb, my hands hurt and I could b

  • An increase or boom in tower work results in a higher number of incidents during that work, no surprise. If the RATE of incidents per given amount of work changes then we have something to talk about.
  • This is just how it is. Any company that does any kind of "construction" ignore all the safety rules they can. Safety takes time, and costs money. Insurance will pay out on the off chance that someone gets hurt or killed.

    The guys working these towers are almost certainly told by their bosses that they need to work faster, and if that means skipping safety measures, then they need to skip safety measures.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Any company that does any kind of "construction" ignore all the safety rules they can.

      My dad was an electrical lineman for 40 years, 15 or more of that constructing and stringing the high voltage towers, and I can tell you that those guys DO follow all the safety rules (I've seen them working). Of course, the IBEW is a pretty strong union. Maybe your construction friends should unionize?

  • by schwit1 (797399) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @11:00AM (#44643741)

    Why not state regulators? Not everything is a federal responsibility.

  • by intensity (118733) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @11:02AM (#44643769) Homepage

    As a former tower climber / tower climbing instructor and engineering manager in the wireless internet and cellular industries I can tell you that the big cellular companies do push hard to crank out new sites or upgrades to existing sites, but it's ultimately up to the climbers / installers and site foreman to insure that safety standards are followed and gear is inspected and used properly. It's hard to read about all these deaths and injuries knowing that - as with many things - these things can be avoided. When properly trained and equipped, tower climbing is remarkably safe, there are systems and backup systems to keep you on the tower should something go wrong. More often than not climbers will free climb or not utilize a 100% tie-off system, meaning even while moving, you're clipped in 100% of the time, even if it slows you down to move from one part of a tower to another. I was climbing up until September of last year and my climbing partner and I inspected everything we used and all the safety gear on the tower as we ascended. We also checked each other front and back to make sure we were not forgetting a strap or a ring or something before climbing.

    One of the amazing things about the cellular industry that I noticed (I did cell networks for about 9 years all over the USA and 2 years of wireless business internet in the PacNW) is that the cell companies will outfit a million dollar site with radio gear and amplifiers and the latest and greatest connectivity they can get there, and then 6-12 months later come out and rip it all out and upgrade it again. They then resell the old gear to other providers here in the US or abroad, ie third world countries etc. This breakneck pace puts a lot of pressure on tower crews to crank out sites fast, adding to the safety issues. All to make a buck, the good ol' American way...

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @11:08AM (#44643851)

    The gov needs to crack down on the over use of contractors and subcontractors. It goes to far in letting safety get pushed back and takes away worker rights. The worker should have the right to say I don't feel safe doing this with the tools that the contractor gives them and make so they can't say we will find some who will do it.

    also get rid of pay per job that leads to rushing to fit more jobs into a day make it pay by hour. Also one thing that useing contractors and subcontractors is that some subcontractor can say our workers have safety training with out much to back it up.

    In the cable tv area the same thing happens with background checks they say we do them but some times they do not to save cash.

  • Texting while driving is deadly and likely not going to be helped much by recent states' laws that outlaw non-handsfree use of phones while driving. I wonder if there is a movement to force cellphone makers to disable texting when car-speed motions are detected...similar to how in-dash DVD players are disabled via the parking brake sensor.
    • I wonder if there is a movement to force cellphone makers to disable texting when car-speed motions are detected...similar to how in-dash DVD players are disabled via the parking brake sensor.

      That wouldn't fly, for several reasons.

      • Cell phone companies make way too much money off text messaging to embrace anything that slows down that profit
      • It would also prevent passengers from sending messages
      • Anything that increases the cost of a phone and doesn't add games, sounds, or other non-phone functionality will never gain acceptance on the market

      That said, I agree that we have a huge problem with text messages being sent while driving. I support a zero tolerance policy that would take someone's li

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I agree that texting while driving is criminally stupid, but why shouldn't the passengers be allowed to text? I'm responsible and don't even answer the phone while driving, why should I have to pay for the equipment to stop me from doing something I'm not going to do anyway? You're for DUI interlocks on all cars on the road? Save the "anti-text" gear for those who've been ticketed a few times, or have caused a crash while texting.

    • There's even a growing movement of text-and-drive danger denialism. They deny that texting while driving is dangerous and think that the push to stop it is some kind of conspiracy. It would be a beautiful thing if they were only putting themselves in danger.

  • this is one of the reasons Linemen have a union...im certain at the boom era of electricity the problems were similar.
  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @11:17AM (#44643961)

    Electrical Utility workers are union and they don't have big safety issues or cowboy subs doing unsafe work.

  • i don't think that there are UAVs in the right weight/price class to actually enable a worker to fall at less than 9.8mps^2 but couldn't a UAV fly the safety line to tie points a bit faster??

    (also could be used when person A is doing something and Person B is running the checklist)

    • Good idea. If a UAV could clip a safety line to the railing at the top (a hexacopter or octocopter should have enough payload capacity), and then the worker could tie their harness to a ratcheting fitting on the safety line, that could allow the worker to safely climb straight to the top without having to move tie points.

  • by WillgasM (1646719) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @11:31AM (#44644147) Homepage
    Reminds me of a YT vid [youtube.com] that still scares the shit out of me.
  • by Daetrin (576516) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @11:33AM (#44644185)
    Approximate odds of dying from occupational hazard as a tower worker in 2013 (so far): 10/10,000 = 0.001

    Approximate odds of dying of terrorism as an American in 2001: 3000/300,000,000 = 0.00001

    Screw OSHA involvement, we need to declare war on something right away and get the NSA spying on everyone in the telecommunications industry! (Okay, that last part may be redundant, but we need to find some way to give up some more freedoms to prove we're taking this seriously!)
  • Workers managed to set a cell tower on fire [baynews9.com] while welding in Florida. I do wonder if those 12-16 hour work days contributed to that mistake.
  • "Can you hear me now? Goooooddddddd!........"

  • If you are climbing a tower in an unsafe manner that is your fault, not your employer's. If your employer tries to make you do something unsafe, what is more important, your job or your life?

  • I am serious; such towers are major killers of rare migratory birds such as warblers.
  • If a job stands an actuarial risk of being deadly and you contract / subcontract /subsubcontract it out, you have just hired *all* those in harms way as full time employees with all the inherent responsibilities and liabilities on your head until the contract is fully and completely fulfilled.

    No more firewalls, corporate assholes.
  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:00PM (#44645325) Homepage

    This may sound stupidly, blindingly, mind-numbingly obvious, yet: Hang Glider pilots have a specific "hook check" procedure to prevent them from jumping off a cliff without their glider attached. When performing a complex operation, humans are very good at forgetting easy steps irrespective of importance. Most commonly, you are supposed to announce when you hook in, and one of your wire crew should tug on the primary and backup lines to make sure both are attached. Google for hang gliding hook check [google.com] and you will find instances where people forget.

    Pick up glider. Proper grip. Wings level. Wind is smooth. Wind speed good. Wait! Lemme go get my water bottle! Unhook. Fumble around for water bottle. "Hey Joe, Bob is on deck to launch next, are you ready?" "Be right there!" Come back. Pick up glider. Proper grip. Wings level. Wind is smooth...

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the demigodic party. -- Dennis Ritchie

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