Safety and OSHA News

6 deaths in 12 weeks raise issue of safety for remote workers

Just 12 weeks into 2014, 6 cell phone tower workers have died on the job. While it will be months before we have official OSHA investigation results, this spate of tower worker deaths raises this question: How safe are your employees who work off site, away from you, the safety professional? 

The Pump Handle reported that as of March 25, there have been 6 cell tower worker deaths in the U.S. in 2014.

In all of 2013, 13 employees died while working on cell towers. This means the rate of deaths in the industry so far in 2014 is nearly double that of last year.

Previous estimates show that the fatality rate in the tower climbing industry is about five times that of all industries.

The hazards of this occupation have been well documented in the last couple of years.

And despite that, many climbers engage in “free climbing,” a practice that foregoes their fall protection.

Why would they do this? Is being isolated from more than one or two colleagues a major factor? Unlike many other hazardous occupations, these employees are on the road without the presence of a safety professional to remind them of the hazards present.

Autonomous workers account for increasingly larger percentages of the workforce. The industries in which they’re prevalent: utilities, service and repair, agriculture and forestry, construction, and truck driving.

Dealing with isolated workers requires a different safety approach.

Alone, but highly motivated

An article in the National Safety Council’s Safety and Health Magazine points out the differences between these remote workers and employees who work as part of a larger crew.

Lone workers are more self-motivated and self-regulated, according to Robert Pater, managing director of MoveSMART.

So command and control doesn’t work for this crowd. Pater says it’s better to help these workers become even more self-motivated to work safely.

Remote workers really have to own their safety. It will be up to them to pause before each job and consider the risks and hazards, then pause again to consider how to avoid the hazards.

And there is one very important thing their employers can do: Make sure these workers know never to sacrifice safety for the sake of speed. Sure, efficiency is important, but safety should never be compromised for it.

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