Safety and OSHA News

Controversy: Video shows worker climbing tower without safety gear

Where do workers get the idea that it’s OK not to use safety gear for hazardous jobs? Is one source online videos?

TheOnlineEngineer.org recently posted a video online that was meant to show a workday in the life of a tower technician equipped with a helmetcam.

Now the website has removed the video after an outcry over a scene that showed so-called “free climbing” — no safety lines are used by the tower climber.

The voice-over on the video implies that free climbing is OK: “It’s easier, faster, and most tower workers climb this way … Free climbing is dangerous, of course, but OSHA rules do allow for it. Attaching, climbing, attaching and removing safety lines every few feet slows progress and is tiring.”

Jim Coleman, chairman of the National Association of Tower Erectors, told the website Wireless Estimator (WE) he was “unaware of any guidance by OSHA that allows for free climbing as an acceptable method of accessing elevated work.”

After complaints, TheOnlineEngineer.org removed the video from its website and from YouTube where it had gone viral, but it’s still available elsewhere.

WE features a “Tower Climbers Hall of Shame” featuring videos of free climbers. The website reports seven fatalities already this year due to falls from towers. The highest number of fatalities occurred in 2006 when 18 people died in tower incidents.

Whether employees see other workers doing unsafe things online or in person, it has the potential to create this excuse: “Joe/Sue does it and has never been hurt.” How do you counter that argument? What do you think about the online free climbing video? Let us know in the Comments Box below.

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Comments

  1. I saw the video last week. It was something that could give you vertigo just watching. But I do understand how attaching, un-attaching, re-attaching over and over again might hinder the climb and actually make it more hazardous than not tying off at all (I am not saying that what they showed on the video was right or wrong). As it is, the climber has to stop every few steps for a rest. Adding in more to his/her climb and taxing the mind even more than the extreme concentration needed for climbing to an extreme height might actually make it more unsafe.

  2. I realize a parachute would be extra weight and bulkier, but if this guy fell he has zero chance. At least with a chute the odds of survival improve. I really like the commentators remark about it being just like a space walk, If it were like a space walk the climber wouldn’t have to deal with gravity.

  3. I saw the video, too, but Wendy’s comment that “re-attaching over and over again might hinder the climb and actually make it more hazardous than not tying off at all” is the very reasoning that gets workers killed. No one should ever confuse safe techniques with the hazards they mitigate. This is equivalent to saying that “seat belts are uncomfortable” or that “speed limits make me late” – very poor arguments made to justify very bad decisions.

  4. Safety is almost always more cumbersome and time consuming but the live you save might be yours. The arguement that it is tiring is about as bad as “I’m being careful so I don’t need [fill in blank] this time.

  5. safety engineer says:

    The job of the climber is complicated by the lack of pre-engineered fall protection on the tower. “Add-on” fall protection such as provided by lanyards and hardnesses are clunky and very slow. It’s only natural climbers will want to get up, get the work done, and get back down as fast as possible. It’s also only natural the company that paid for building the tower will want to eliminate any extra costs, such as non-mandatory fall protection features built into the tower.

    Some of these free-climbers will tie off once they get to the specific stationary work area. The problem with that approach is the climber is unprotected during the most dangerous part of the climb. If the climber were to slip, a rung were to break off, or the climber were to suffer a medical condition, it would lead to a fall. However, the existing fall protection measures are cumbersome and slow down climbing so much, it’s no surprise climbers are willing to take their chances without them.

    OSHA needs to get a little tougher with the companies building these towers to promote safer, easier to climb towers.

  6. I saw the video months ago and the person was wrong to admit he does not use the tie off method. just one time while resting and let go by mistake would end his life. That should not be his call. He should be tied off no matter how much time it takes. I don’t know how many people fall but just one can hurt the family and company. There should be a rope type that could better soot the climber. I have never climbed that high but If I had too for my family I would tie off. Remember if the worker has no family they will take risks.

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