Category Archives: Safety

Tower Collapses Kill Three Men


Two men were killed and two were injured when the tower they were working on collapsed, Feb. 1, outside of Clarksburg, W.Va. A firefighter also died when a second tower collapsed just minutes later after being weakened by the collapse of the first tower.

The tower was being worked on to deploy additional tenant equipment. The project was contracted by SBA Communications to an independent engineering firm, which in turn sub-contracted the work to S. and S. Communications Specialists, based in Oklahoma,” according to SBA spokesperson Lynne Hopkins.

The contractors, identified as Kyle Kirkpatrick, 32, and Terry Lee Richard, Jr., 27, both of Oklahoma, were both on a tower owned by SBA Communications repairing and removing old supports when the structure gave way. The third man killed, Michael Dale Garrett, 28, of Clarksburg, was with the Nutter Fort Volunteer Fire Department.

Three men were tethered at 70 feet and another at 20 feet above the ground when the accident occurred and were pinned underneath the wreckage.

“When the members of the fire department were approaching the [fallen] tower, a second, much smaller tower, collapsed,” Mark Waggamon, officer, W. Va. State Police, told TV channel 12 WBOY.

Two other contractors remain hospitalized with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, and a second firefighter was treated and released.

SBA Communications has employees on site participating in the investigation, helping Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to determine how and why the accident happened.

“At this time we do not know why the accident occurred,” Hopkins said in a prepared statement. “We are deeply saddened by this tragic event. Safety of and on our towers is and always will be a top priority at SBA. Please join us in keeping the deceased, injured and their families in our thoughts and prayers.” Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

La. TowerCo Cited by OSHA in Worker Fatality


LOUISE, Miss. – Custom Tower LLC of Scott, La., has been cited by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for one willful safety violation following the death of a worker who fell 125 feet while attempting to install a microwave dish on a cellular tower along Highway 149 in Louise. OSHA initiated the August inspection in response to the fatality.

“This preventable tragedy underscores the legal responsibility of employers to follow OSHA standards and procedures to ensure workers use fall protection equipment correctly,” said Clyde Payne, director of OSHA’s Jackson Area Office. “Employers must ensure a safe and healthful workplace for their workers.”

The willful violation involves the employer failing to ensure that workers wore and used fall protection equipment properly while working from heights greater than 6 feet. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

OSHA’s fall prevention campaign provides employers and workers with lifesaving information and educational materials about working safely from ladders, scaffolds and roofs. It was developed in partnership with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and NIOSH’s National Occupational Research Agenda program. More information on fall protection standards is available in English and Spanish at

Custom Tower LLC designs, manufactures, installs and repairs cellular towers. Proposed penalties total $50,400.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s Jackson area director, or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency’s Jackson Area Office at 601-965-4606.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit


Region 4 News Release: 13-2313-ATL (304)
Contact: Lindsay Williams Michael D’Aquino
Phone: 404-562-2078 404-562-2076
Email: d’

U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at The information above is available in large print, Braille or CD from the COAST office upon request by calling 216-893-7828 or TTY 216-893-7755.

Being Trained Does Not Make You a Tower Hand


GUEST OPINION  By Dr. Bridgett Hester…

When I established the Hubble Foundation, I jumped in headlong. I wanted to create a foundation to advocate for the tower climbers in the wireless infrastructure industry, and especially for the families of the climbers who perished. I knew very little and was not sure exactly what I was doing, but I did know a couple things for certain. First, I wanted to be the climber advocate — no hesitation, no questions. I was just going to do it and learn as I went along. Second, I needed to know what they did for a living, not in theory, in practice. After 18 months of getting organized, making contacts, granting scholarships, sending a climber to instructors school, helping stranded climbers, writing grants, answering emails, making and receiving endless phone calls, and a few nights of crying about new fatalities, I was ready. I needed to get myself Comtrained. I told myself I could not advocate to the best of my ability unless I took the class, donned a harness and climbed a tower myself.

My late husband Jonce Hubble had done this for a living. He died doing the job, and I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. Wrong. For those of us who are more suited for office work or academia, putting on a harness, even with no tools, and using pelican hooks to climb a broadcast tower is a bit intimidating, to say the least. I endured heat, sweat, cumbersome equipment and my own nerves. This is nothing compared with what these men and women face every day. However, I can assure you that those minor conditions alone were sufficient enough to confirm that I am not a tower climber in any form or fashion. However, I did obtain the understanding I was searching for, which, in the end, will make me a better advocate.

After the Comtrain class, I was well-equipped, I knew the basics, I knew I could rescue someone if I needed to do so, I could tie some knots, and I could be 100 percent at all times. I knew how to keep myself safe. I knew the basics. The class was great, the instructors and people were fabulous, and the material overwhelming. Knowing the information and actually using that information to execute the job are two completely different animals. In the midst of climbing, I was simply astounded by the information I had to keep in the forefront of my brain while trying to get myself up the tower and rescue someone. I was concentrating so hard on calming myself a few times, I was not paying attention to the Y-lanyard being under my arm, my gate on the pelican hook not facing the right way, or getting myself wrapped in the descent line. These things were pointed out to me as I climbed, and I corrected the situation.

I tried to place myself in the mindset that I was really on the job, that I was really going to be rescued because I had made a mistake or had an accident, and that I was really going to rescue my current husband (we took the class together). While climbing, I realized that the sheer amount of information I had to remember was immense, immediate, and could make the difference between life and death. If I would have had to actually rescue my husband, it wouldn’t have been pretty. He probably would have ended up having a femoral blood clot or problems with his breathing from hanging in the harness too long. I wasn’t fast enough, I wasn’t fluid enough, and I just wasn’t comfortable enough yet physically or mentally. It was daunting. Anyone who has never climbed for a living, who gets trained only in the basics, and who states they aren’t nervous (or at least apprehensive) or states they are fully capable of handling any situation, is either a liar or an overconfident employee who will end up getting one of your crew killed.

Do I believe that there are people who have never been in the business but nevertheless are naturally gifted climbers with no fear of heights, with no problem working in any kind of weather, and who are physically able to attend to the duties of the job? Absolutely. Do I also believe that those same people should be (at a bare minimum) nervous about scaling a structure and having to possibly be responsible for another human being if the need should arise? I think they had better be. If they aren’t, you have a potential problem. This job attracts a certain personality and with that comes a responsibility for the employer to ensure that the employees they hire are not only capable, but that they are also truly cognizant of the hazards and the safety protocol. The employers are responsible for making sure that those employees are willing and capable of understanding that their lives and the lives of others depend on their exercise of good judgment and the solid execution of what they have learned.

Both of my trainers (I trained twice) were very quick to tell me that the training is basic. Once you take the basic course, there remain years’ worth of jobs, situations and additional training courses that need to be completed before anyone can ever truly be considered to be experienced. You don’t take just anybody, throw him in a harness, run him through climber basic training, and then send him up the tower. It is likely that those who handle the business end of telecommunications, and maybe that includes you, have never put on a harness, climbed a tower and braved the elements (weather, bird feces, bird attacks, hideous deadlines, rain, sleet, snow and angry dogs). I understand that it’s not your cup of tea. Trust me, it’s not mine, either.

However, I would recommend that every employee of any telecommunications company, wireless carriers included, take basic climber training. Unless you understand your climbers and what they actually do, you don’t understand your business. It really is that simple.

Since I have jumped into the advocacy role, I have heard accounts and I have spoken to the climbers involved in which newly trained, green climbers, fresh from a training facility, were loaded into a truck, sent off to a jobsite, and told to “Get it done.” Newly trained climbers are being sent out with only other green hands on-site, or worse, sent out alone.

The question I have when I hear this is, “What in the world is wrong with their employers?” In their infinite wisdom, the employers have decided that since the climber has passed a basic training course, they are fit to be sent up a tower to perform tasks for which they have zero practical experience. I can technically climb now. Big deal. That hardly qualifies me to scale a tower and install an antenna. I understand on-the-job training. It’s indispensable, but to send someone to do a job right from training without being accompanied by seasoned climbers or, worse yet, alone, is not only irresponsible, but unconscionable. They are going to get someone killed, and ultimately, that will be on your head. Just because you sent your brand new men and women to a basic training course — listen to me — does not make them tower hands. Period.

About the author:

Bridgette Hester, Ph.D., is a family and workplace strategist. She is the founder and president of the Hubble Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting the safety of tower workers, site crews and green energy turbine climbers. Her email address is

Jonce Hubble and the Hubble Foundation 

On July 22, 2010, Jonce Hubble, 41, died of injuries sustained when a 300-foot tower collapsed after a bucket truck collided with the tower’s guy wires. His co-worker, Barry Sloan, 37, also died of injuries sustained when the tower fell. They were at the 40-foot level, climbing down. Bridgette Hester was Hubble’s wife. She is the founder and president of the Hubble Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting the safety of tower workers, site crews and green energy turbine climbers. The Hubble Foundation website is at

This article originally ran in the November issue of AGL magazine. 


Executives Explore Increasing Tower Safety


Top safety and operations executives representing the wireless carriers, tower owners, OEMs and turnkey/construction management firms met with officials from the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) at the Telecommunications Industry Safety Summit, late in October, in Dallas to examine leading indicators that compromise safety, and collaborate on best practice solutions.

The goal of the event was to bring the industry together to talk about the trends, the root causes and develop some mutually agreed upon goals to make the industry safer, according to Todd Schlekeway, NATE executive director.

“Topics that were discussed at length included developing more consistent pre-hiring practices, a consistent process for vetting contractors and subcontractors and standardized safety programs. This would raise the bar and make sure that everyone is more in tune with a higher level of safety conscience,” he said.

Bringing all factions of the industry together at the safety summit was an important step because each company, on its own, can only do so much to improve their safety culture, according to Martin Travers, president, Telecommunications, Black & Veatch.

“We have come to the conclusion that the best way to improve the safety performance on our projects would be to encourage improvement of the safety performance of the whole industry, because so many of us employ tiers of subcontracts that are often interchangeable, from the program managers and the prime contractors, Travers said.

“There needs to be a guiding set of principles with regard to safe tower construction that are accepted practices so that the industry will be consistent in its application,” he added.

Meeting participants agreed to work together to achieve sustainable safety improvements, forming the Wireless Industry Safety Taskforce with 27 members that will explore ways to meet the objectives outlined at the summit.

“What was really encouraging about the summit was a very strong common understanding and acceptance that the proposed process made sense and they wanted to participate. It was easy to come to a consensus regarding what should be done and how it should be done,” Travers said.

Companies represented at the Telecommunications Industry Safety Summit included: Alcatel Lucent, American Tower, AT&T, Bechtel, Black & Veatch, Crown Castle, Ericsson, General Dynamics, Goodman Networks, Jacobs Telecommunications, Mastec Network Solutions, Motorola Solutions, Nokia Network Solutions, SAI Communications, Samsung Telecommunications America, SDT Network Services, SBA, Sprint, U.S. Cellular, Velocitel, Verizon Wireless and WesTower.

Crop Duster Knocks Down Comm. Towers in Illinois


UPDATE–Two communications towers collapsed after being struck by a general aviation aircraft while crop dusting, near Steward in Lee County, Illinois, according to Illinois State Police in Sterling.

The 465-foot and 250-foot towers went down as the plane clipped one or more of their guy wires. Tenants on the structures, which are owned by a farmer, Martin Ravnass, included wireless Internet service providers and various government entities, such as the FBI and the sheriff. A third, self-supported tower, owned by American Tower, was unscathed, even though it was just feet away.

The pilot, who received non-life-threatening injuries, was able to remove himself from the aircraft as the engine compartment caught fire.  He was taken to Rochelle Community Hospital and then transferred to Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, Ill.

The crash is being investigated by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.