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He fell 120 feet to the ground while dismantling an unused communications tower in Lincoln, Illinois on June 8, 2005. Although identified only as employee #1 in the official OSHA report, he was 43 year old Toby Wheale of Glendale, AZ. Wheale’s employer, Wireless Horizon Inc. of Lincoln IL, was fined $750. The head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) once called tower climbing “the most dangerous job in America.” Apparently $750 was the worth of this person’s life in the communications industry.

A total of 100 people died falling from communication towers between 2003-2011. Of these, 50 fell from cell phone towers. The worst carnage was between 2006-2008 when the iPhone rollout caused a spike in phone traffic that ATT had not anticipated and a major overhaul of the system was required.  The death rate for tower climbers is about 10 times that of construction workers.

Tower climbing in the telecom industry is non-union.

Cell tower

Many of us wake up to our cell phones and even go to sleep with them at night. We talk, text, browse the web, listen to music, take photos, shoot videos, record notes, check the time and so much more. The first commercial US cellular phone system was set up in Chicago in 1983. As of 2011, there were more mobile phones than people in the USA and approximately 280,000 cellular phone tower sites around the nation.

People are aware that cellular phone use while driving can be deadly. But there is another type of fatality involving cell phones that has received almost no attention, the deaths of tower climbers who install and upgrade cellular technology. A driver yakking carelessly on a cell phone can be a death foretold; so can a corporation demanding that workers climb towers hundreds of feet high on impossible deadlines without proper safety enforcement and training.

 But now tower climbers are speaking out. As one climber put it: “People have no idea what we go through on a day to day basis to give them that service when they hold their cell phones.”

Helmet of a fallen tower worker
Helmet of a fallen tower climber. Photo credit: Frontline

The tower climbers do not work directly for the big telecoms like ATT or Verizon. They are enmeshed in a complex system of labor contractors and subcontractors and can make as little $10-$11 an hour for very hazardous work. The telecom giants make no serious effort to oversee their contractors and subcontractors and OSHA does not have the resources to keep tabs on all of them.

Many are mom and pop operations. Some are very safety conscious, but the economics of this highly competitive business work against responsible contractors. They compete with the cheap fly-by-night operations who ignore safety, provide little or no training and no supervision in the field.

 Recently spotlighted by the TV show Frontline and the publication Pro Publica,  these revelations about tower climbers come on the heels of Chinese iPhone makers leaping to their deaths because of their terrible working conditions. The powerful 30 minute Frontline documentary about tower climbing can be seen on the web here. The telecom industry is a global operation with a deeply flawed business model sitting atop a morass of brutal labor exploitation.

 At the heart of the problem lies the big telecoms ability to distance themselves from the workers who make the phones and service the tower infrastructure. For the tower climbers, the widespread abuses of labor contacting and subcontracting can make each workday a possible date with death.

Abuse by labor contractors goes back deep into our history. In the early days of European colonization, indentured servants working the tobacco plantations of Tidewater Maryland and Virginia experienced death rates of up to 50%. These workers were eventually divided along racial lines with black workers subjected to lifetime slavery while whites went free after 5-7 years if they survived the ordeal. Indentured servants who landed better jobs in domestic service or apprenticing in skilled trades reported beatings and sexual assaults among other abuses.

It took the American Revolution to end indentured servitude and the Civil War to end slavery.

In the 19th century labor unions and other reformers fought the use of prisoners as contract labor. The abuses were comparable to the earliest days of indentured servitude, especially as many of these people were not actually guilty of any crimes:

The death rate of prisoners leased to railroad companies between 1877 and 1879 was 16 percent in Mississippi, 25 percent in Arkansas, and 45 percent in South Carolina. The stories of violence and torture eventually led to massive reform and abolition movements involving alliances between prisoner organizations, labor unions, and community groups. By the 1930s, every state had abolished convict leasing.

In the early 20th century, immigrant workers opposed the sweatshop conditions imposed by labor contractors in the slums of New York and Chicago. The radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) fought the abuses of labor contractors in the farm fields of the West Coast in the face of extreme employer violence, a battle carried on by Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers beginning in the 1960s which also saw its share of employer violence.

Today contract labor is widespread across occupational lines. The tower climbers are not alone when it comes to abuse of low wage contract labor. Contract workers across the board report wage theft, minimum wage violations, health and safety violations plus a general disrespect of workers as human beings. Even today, some contract employees are literally being worked to death.

Chris Deckrow owns a small tower climbing company based in Michigan. He’s a contractor who does not want to work his employees to death. Since he can no longer afford to buy new safety equipment or continue training programs, he’s closing his business. Deckrow does not want to compete with the fly-by-night operations industry insiders call “two guys and a rope”. Chris Deckrow is dropping out of the race to the bottom.

“I want to be able to not worry about my guys not coming home. If we’re not properly maintained or trained, then people will die. It’s only a matter of time.”

Contractors who work on ATT and Sprint equipment must go through large companies like General Dynamics and Bechtel, both of which have been plagued by scandal in the past. Called “turf vendors” within the industry, these big companies negotiate directly with the big telecoms. By the time the actual work reaches small contractors (who often work side by side with their employees), there is very little money left. Verizon deals with contractors directly and usually sticks with the same ones repeatedly, paying them more money. Verizon has a better safety record than ATT.

Work deadlines set by the big telecoms can be ferocious. Project manager Don MacRae commented on the big iPhone rollout of 2007, “We were working in the field for 40 hours straight. They had crews in rain, sleet, snow.”

Steve Watts, a former risk manager for ATT said this,”I don’t think there’s any question that the pressure to build out the network has been a contributing factor to fatalities.”

The pressure to meet deadlines means that some tower climbers routinely do not follow safety procedures or wear the proper equipment. Some engage in a practice called “free climbing” which means climbing the towers without attaching themselves to prevent a fall. It’s fast, but risky. It is against OSHA guidelines, but some contractors simply look the other way.

Ray Hull was not free climbing when he was permanently disabled in 2003 while trying to meet a tight deadline in Nebraska. After a crane operator left the site because it was too windy, Hull asked for an extension from his contractor and was told that the telecom, Nextel, couldn’t wait. He and his partner Frankie Ketchens then drove 15 hours straight from Texas with the necessary equipment and hoped to sleep before ascending the tower. 

Seeing a Nextel truck on the site, Hull decided they had better get to work right away. With Hull 240 feet up the tower, Ketchens made a mistake with the hoist, and a huge piece of steel came crashing down with Hull attached. Miraculously Hull lived, though badly injured. He sued in court and won a judgement from a contractor but the suit against Nextel was dismissed.

Hull is a third generation climber, a man who still misses going up on those towers saying,” There’s probably not a human being alive that loved their job as much as I did,” he said. “Everything that I could do was taken from me.”

Loving the job comes up often in conversations with tower climbers. Wally Reardon, a former tower climber who now heads up the Tower Climber Protection Project says this about himself:

”I had no skills when I started other than factory and farm work. It was the first job I had that I loved to tell people about. I loved the adventure and I loved climbing on things others wouldn't. The paycheck was secondary for me when I started.”
Wally Reardon
Wally Reardon climbing an 1100 foot tower. Photo credit: North Country Public Radio

It’s a job that tends to attract a certain type of individual: one who likes working outdoors, who enjoys the ecstasy of being high above the world, who thrives on physical and mental challenge, enjoys the camaraderie of a good crew and who often, as Wally Reardon puts it, lives ”...a life that is non-conformative.”

But does a job that can bring such joy have to be so damned dangerous? Craig Lekutis, President of The Wireless Estimator, a man with nearly 30 years experience in the field, doesn’t think so. He compared the USA with countries ranging from Canada to Cambodia and concluded that the USA is the most dangerous place to work. 

Canada is a much safer place to climb a tower because according to Tom Vardy, a senior consulting engineer and president of Varcon,”I think the main reason for the lack of tower accidents and fatalities in Canada is the safety programs in place for tower climbers, initiated by owners, consultants, contractors and the Federal Labor Code."

Irish telecom expert Dr. Diarmuid Moran explains Ireland’s excellent safety record,”In Ireland, if a contractor had a fatality they would go out of business as the industry is small with four or five telcos and three or four broadband wireless operators, and ten contractor companies...Everybody knows what is going on. Mess it up with a fatality, then goodbye business in Ireland.” Moran is not aware of any tower fatalities in his country.

There have been efforts to clean up safety in the USA. OSHA has cited negligent contractors, but US law effective insulates the large telecoms from prosecution and OSHA’s resources are limited by the toxic political atmosphere in Washington where as the Bob Dylan song goes,”Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” OSHA’s regulatory model was established in the early 1970s for larger more centralized companies, not today’s Alice In Wonderland maze of subcontractors. Although new legislation has been introduced to hold big companies responsible, hope for its passage is dim.

Jordan Barab, a deputy administrator at OSHA explains his frustration:

“Generally, we can only cite employers when their employees are at the work site. As you go up the line, it becomes much more difficult to actually hold the companies at the top responsible.”

An industry group, the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) has been working on safety and general education since 1995, sharing research and organizing conferences and workshops. However much of NATE's focus was on worker behavior. In 2006, prodded by 19 tower climber deaths, NATE partnered with OSHA to coordinate safety improvement. At first the new relationship seemed to be working, but problems quickly arose.

The big telecoms would have nothing to do with the NATE-OSHA alliance. In 2008 OSHA informed NATE that NATE needed to hire a safety expert and run its own accident investigations. NATE replied that investigations were OSHA’s job and that NATE had no way of enforcing safety standards on irresponsible contractors or changing the “unrealistic schedules” of the big telecoms. The NATE-OSHA alliance was dead by the end of 2009.

Some observers dismiss the whole idea of OSHA-style regulation, saying that safety is the responsibility of the individual tower climber. They cite the case of Jay Guilford, a climber who fell to his death in 2008. Guilford was described by  veteran climber Robert Hale as young and cocky, unafraid of anything. While descending a tower, he rappelled down like a rock climber without attaching himself properly to the tower. 

 Jay Guilford
Jay Guilford atop a tower. Photo credit: Frontline.

 While calling out,”Bouncy...bouncy” to the workers below, a defective clip broke and he plunged 150 feet to his death. Autopsy results confirmed that Guilford had been smoking pot.

Safety advocate Wally Reardon recognizes that drug and alcohol use is a problem, but says that little is being done to address that. 

Tower climbers are overwhelming male.It is well known that some young men can be foolish risk takers. Scientific research suggests that this may be due excessive testosterone and brains that are still being rewired for maturity. But whatever the reason, if there are not mature experienced workers there to create a culture of safety and mutual respect, then some of the young guys are likely to ignore safety and even engage in dangerous horseplay. 

Such a culture of safety can be hard to create with low bid contractors who don’t care, working for turf vendors who don’t care, and who answer to telecoms who don’t care either because it’s more profitable for them. 

Of course tower climbers have to take personal responsibility. A stoned or reckless climber is a danger to themselves and those around them. However, according to our Supreme Court, corporations like ATT are now “persons”. Shouldn’t they be expected to exercise personal responsibility as well?

There have been no deaths in 2012, although a man was injured on May 25 after falling 100 feet from a tower in Texas. Industry veterans worry that there will be more fatalities with the next major rollout of cell phone upgrades as people rely even more on their phones for high bandwidth data transmission.

So who will step up for the “tower dogs” as they often call themselves. To expect OSHA and NATE to make the USA another Canada or Ireland for the tower climbers is unrealistic. However well intentioned they may be, they just don’t have the power.

The only people who can step up and create a true culture of safety while raising wages and benefits are the tower climbers themselves. That means they will need to do what workers have done since this nation was founded. Organize. On the discussion boards and comment sections of tower climber websites, the issue of unionization comes up, with both pro and anti-union sentiments expressed. My unscientific survey suggests that the anti’s are in the majority.

There are steep obstacles facing tower climbers who do wish to organize. Much of the work is done in rural areas and around small towns where union traditions are weak or nonexistent. Tower climbers deal with many small companies spread out across a big country. Persistent high unemployment  means that unfriendly contractors can easily find replacements for rebellious tower climbers, no matter how unsuitable the new recruits may be. 

Verizon and ATT have many union workers in their ranks, but even there unions like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communication Workers of America are on the defensive. Our labor laws are weak, biased in favor of employers and enforcement is spotty. Every year thousands of workers are illegally fired for union activity

Workers have faced unfavorable conditions before and met with success. One of the greatest periods of labor organizing in US history came during the Great Depression when union membership was miniscule at the time of The Crash in 1929. Amidst high employment and armed violence, industrial workers created the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which helped pave the way for a middle class lifestyle that lasted well into the 1980s when a concentrated employer offensive eventually drove private sector union membership below 7%. Today, public workers  face the same kind of onslaught.

The CIO unions succeeded in their time because they radically changed the way unions were structured. Today conditions are very different from the 1930s or even the 1980s. With the rise of globalization, outsourcing and subcontracting, the older union structures are inadequate and frankly, barely up to the task of playing defense. Some unions are beginning to recognize this and are experimenting with new forms of organizing to deal with our badly broken labor relations system.

If tower climbers decide to organize, they will have to develop new strategies and organizational models that fit their unique economic niche. This will not be easy in today’s economic climate, but isn’t it the “non-conformative” who are the innovators in any field?

Tower climbers could choose to ally with those workers who are already transforming US labor relations, figuring out solutions that might work in an economy unlike any other in US history. Joining the labor movement means more than negotiating with hard-nosed employers. It could facilitate communication among tower workers and wield clout with all levels of government. Perhaps organized tower climbers could even ally with decent minded contractors who do not want to compete with “two guys and a rope”.

It could be a way to find allies among the general public and bring pressure on corporations who like to protect their public image. It can be a way to engage with researchers and hear ideas from people outside the tower climber ranks. A smart person from the outside can sometimes provide fresh perspectives to consider. 

Of course it will be the tower climbers who will decide how to proceed into an uncertain future.

As for the rest of us who hold our cell phones next to us like we once cuddled our teddy bears, lets give the tower dogs our sincere thanks and wish them better days ahead.

I’m a Tower Dawg: A poem by tower climber Michael Vishkov

I'm a tower dawg. I live in this tower room. I love the spaces there.I can soar inside this tower room. They can take me anywhere. And they have. Because I'm the king in my castle, my walls are made of steel. My pack of towerdawg soldiers and I. We come to conquer towns. But when the work is over and the drive is stark and bare my motel's feels like a dungeon with no one waiting there. I'm alive when I am climbing and I have an admission I must make. When I’m up here it feels like reality. When I’m off the tower it's all seems so fake. There’s a lady somewhere waiting who loved me more than I could ever know. She died a little each time I left for the road. But she loved me enough to let me go. She prays someday I will find my way to bring her man home. But now for what I have done. I will be soaring towards the sun. Climbing this tower all alone...And that lady. Her name is Lori Ann Vishkoff the love of my life ...

Sources Consulted

Ask a Former Cell Tower Worker by Nathan Tobey

In Race For Better Cell Service, Men Who Climb Towers Pay With Their Livesby Ryan Knutson, PBS Frontline, and Liz Day

Built for a Simpler Era, OSHA Struggles When Tower Climbers Die by Ryan Knutson, PBS Frontline, and Liz Day

Schedule and margin pressures seen as possible reasons for higher death count of techs in the US by Craig Lekutis

The Fatal Price of 3G

US Tower Structure Related Fatalities

The Wireless Estimator

How Subcontracting Affects Worker Safety

Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics and Policy Volume 1 By Gwendolyn Mink, Alice O'Connor

Rooted in Slavery: Prison Labor Exploitation by Jaron Browne

The Encyclopedia of Strikes in American History by Aaron Brenner, 

Unregulated Work in Chicago by Nik Theodore, Mirabai Auer, Ryan Hollon, and Sandra Morales-Mirque

Originally posted to BobboSphere on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 03:32 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, Daily Kos Classics, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (161+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rich in PA, Horace Boothroyd III, NYFM, blueoasis, marleycat, DuzT, tcdup, hannah, CT yanqui, politik, voodoochild62, Troubadour, Wee Mama, xanthippe2, wxorknot, G2geek, Oh Mary Oh, susakinovember, implicate order, Clem Yeobright, Regina in a Sears Kit House, Bob B, klompendanser, ZenTrainer, tobendaro, lineatus, Mentatmark, NYmom, pixxer, Tinfoil Hat, anodnhajo, enhydra lutris, 2d, MichiganChet, mwk, greengemini, Russgirl, JeffW, mrsgoo, Steven D, zerelda, tommymet, jgilhousen, wonmug, Deep Texan, Pat K California, NYC Sophia, MKinTN, Zinman, Demeter Rising, BlueInARedState, GoGoGoEverton, madgranny, shaharazade, JohnnySacks, Via Chicago, Mannie, science nerd, FG, YucatanMan, where4art, Bluesee, Sychotic1, IndieGuy, koNko, prfb, GeorgeXVIII, myrealname, Shockwave, Yellow Canary, sunny skies, mikeconwell, MGross, dradams, Nate in IA, snoopydawg, RatCitySqueaker, BRog, Lefty Coaster, samanthab, rockhound, statsone, sawgrass727, poe, revbludge, RhymesWithUrple, Haf2Read, greenomanic, Sean Robertson, tampaedski, old wobbly, 417els, fixxit, wayoutinthestix, Brooke In Seattle, dfe, AZ Sphinx Moth, mookins, TexasTom, cotterperson, sockpuppet, Debs2, Bernie68, Mother Mags, UncleCharlie, Larsstephens, herbalina, KVoimakas, gatorcog, dejavu, Crabby Abbey, Caddis Fly, Robynhood too, blackjackal, jo fish, P Carey, tapestry, spunhard, DvCM, uciguy30, Carol in San Antonio, kaliope, ColoTim, slowbutsure, mrkvica, timewarp, HudsonValleyMark, bronte17, StrayCat, Loonesta, FrY10cK, ipsos, Lily O Lady, salmo, Catte Nappe, edsbrooklyn, Involuntary Exile, ontheleftcoast, Villanova Rhodes, indres, CA coastsider, xaxnar, xynz, ogre, Kristina40, pat bunny, Chi, BigOkie, doinaheckuvanutjob, radical simplicity, ladybug53, 207wickedgood, bnasley, terabytes, Unitary Moonbat, WakeUpNeo, BusyinCA, Odysseus, Mr Robert, KenBee, RosyFinch

    "Don't believe everything you think."

    by BobboSphere on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 03:32:33 AM PDT

  •  Very informative. (50+ / 0-)

    I work for one of those Telecom giants and I can tell you, subcontracting is happening at just about every level of the company.  From call centers in India to drivers to tree trimmers to, yes, tower climbers.

    I can see Canada from my house. No, really, I can.

    by DuzT on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 04:49:52 AM PDT

    •  from what I recall.... (30+ / 0-)

      .... AT&T when it was The Bell System, had a ferociously effective company-wide safety policy.  Everything was per Bell System Practices down to "how to hold a screwdriver."  

      I take it those days are long gone?  

      One more casualty of the deregulation.  That's what people get for demanding "low low prices."  

      BTW, I've been in interconnect for 30 years, PBX eng.  Started in the days of 1A2 and crossbar switches.

      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 06:25:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  None of that applies to the contractors. eom (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        old wobbly, sockpuppet, DvCM

        What a Police State Looks Like: "On one side: soft human flesh, unprotected human skulls, cardboard signs, slogans they chant, armed with belief in 1st Amendment rights. On the other: helmets, body armor, guns, batons, chemical weapons." -- JanetRhodes

        by YucatanMan on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 08:58:01 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  AT&T & Verizon (12+ / 0-)

        Their cellular companies (non-union) are seperate from the ILECs

        So the companies the author writes about are not truly union.

        CWA & IBEW's biggest mistake in history was allowing those wireless companies of the parent companies to form NON-union companies.

        They should have striked long and hard to keep those new jobs in an emerging field union!

        Never underestimate stupid. Stupid is how reTHUGlicans win!

        by Mannie on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:48:39 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  G2G, the safety policies are still there. On Paper (6+ / 0-)

        But the new "efficiency" craze (read: work faster) encourages, demands actually, that workers cut corners all the time.  
        It's a twofer for the company because they can squeeze more work out of everyone, but when someone gets injured on the job they can usually find a way to blame that person, thus denying benefits; in some cases firing the injured worker for daring to get hurt trying to keep up with the insane demands of the job.

        I can see Canada from my house. No, really, I can.

        by DuzT on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 12:13:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I worked for Southern Bell (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        back then.

        The safety regulations were so ridiculous that it was almost impossible to get any work done.

        They paid $100 to anyone who submitted a "safety" regulation that got adopted, so there was a lot of incentive to pile on the BS.

        Safe is one thing, but it can be overboard.

        Same thing with the insanely slow speed limits on most roads, but that's another gripe.

        To be a Republican, you have to believe that our economic problems are caused by the poor having too much money and the rich not having enough.

        by Tommy Jones the Band on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 01:27:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It isn't just people demanding low prices, it's (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Maggiemad, wintergreen8694

        that the corporatists have designed and executed a very successful PR job that has these workers buying into the "free market" and rugged individualism. That is why union membership has declined. We, the public have allowed the anti-union legislation to be passed without a thought. I wish every worker would read this piece and think about it. How does it feel to work in a country that has so many accidents compared to Canada, Ireland, etc. Do these workers even know this? I doubt it. Sickening.

    •  A friend that worked at Verizon had a Sprint cell (16+ / 0-)

      phone.  When asked why his phone wasn't Verizon with an employee discount, he explained that Verizon had three different companies:  Cellular, Long Distance and Local and that there were no deals between those companies.   He also wouldn't be able to transfer from one division to another and keep seniority and benefits.  He'd have to move to a new job in another division/company at Verizon as a new employee.  He was finally laid of 2-3 years ago as his division continues to fade.

      Why?  One of those divisions/companies had union workers, the others did not.  Verizon wanted to keep the contagion of organized workers confined to that one division.

      Is that structure communicated to the customer?  No.   Verizon wants to look like one stop shopping to their customer.  They advertise that way, they probably also lobby Congress that way.

      Republicans: They hate us for our Freedom.

      by mikeconwell on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:33:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'll admit, my experience in this is military (4+ / 0-)

      But, the military adheres to OSHA standards. With rigorous safety requirements that make a fall of even two feet impossible.
      So, it appears a case of yet again, a contracting corporation not enforcing the contract, as contracts contain clauses about adhering to the fucking law.
      And ignoring that contractees are responsible for their subcontractor's behavior.

      Oh wait, I forgot, corporations are the government now.
      My bad.

  •  Actually, the exploitation of workers is a (20+ / 0-)

    form of abuse and it is in the nature of abuse that the victim cannot protect him or herself.  When there's an immediate prospect of death, self-defense, which involves injury, is possible because preferable to the alternative. Abuse is different because the object (intentional or incidental) is to injure.  So, since self-defense involves injury, to protect oneself against abuse is to, in effect, do the abuser's dirty work for him.

    Which is why, when it comes to abuse, authority has to be invoked and exercised.  There has to be an outside intervention.  Indeed, I'd go so far as to argue that to counter abuse is what we organize and designate our governmental agencies for.  It may be argued that our agents of government are tasked with "protecting and saving lives," but that's unrealistic since, in the long run, everybody dies. So, the only thing that can be accomplished effectively is the termination of abuse and suffering -- i.e. torture.

    Of course, if one accepts that, then it follows that the deprivation of human rights and the denial of medical care being pushed by some of our agents of government are abusive to the nth degree -- not just of the victims, but of the powers the agents of government have been given.  For, when authority stands silent in the face of abuse, it becomes complicit. Moreover, since it is nationally accepted that our agents of government can kill outright, as long as the proper procedures have been followed, turning a blind eye to official abuse, a lesser/included example of violence and abuse is entirely consistent.  That is, we countenance torture because outright killing is permitted.

    "Death penalty" and " capital punishment" are euphemisms to deny what's really being approved.

    People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

    by hannah on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 05:13:16 AM PDT

    •  I do not understand this part: (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      417els, DvCM, Chi
      So, since self-defense involves injury, to protect oneself against abuse is to, in effect, do the abuser's dirty work for him.
      What am I missing?

      "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

      by Orinoco on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:38:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think hannah is saying that in some work (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        environments the only potential option to avoid an unsafe deadly outcome in the line of work is to get injured, therefore it is "doing the abuser's dirty work for" them.

        That's how I read it.

        24/7, it's all 'Great news for Romney!'

        by doinaheckuvanutjob on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 07:22:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  thanks for shining the light. n/t (12+ / 0-)

    A hundred years from now...Watering lawns will seem as crazy as throwing diamonds on our lawns; we're throwing the world's most important resource - clean drinking water - on the ground. - Univ. of TX Professor Michael Webber

    by politik on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 05:24:59 AM PDT

  •  Better Education Would Be The Most Effective... (15+ / 0-)

    solution for the "tower dogs".

    Many dangerous jobs need to be done in order for us to have what we want in our lives.  As long as there is demand we will have people die on the job.

    I did contracting and subcontracting for 10 years in a field that carried higher than average rsik of injury and death.  My first rule was that my safety was more important than the job or their results.  If an employer did not want me to do the job in a safe manner, they could find someone else.

    When friends, family, and acquaintences would make comments about something being dangerous, I would explain to them that the truly dangerous part of my job was driving to and from the job.  I drove 30,000 miles a year and often drove 100 miles each way per day.  In my personal opinion, driving is the most dangerous part of working.  I can plan for and predict the dangerous parts of my job, but how do I know when the next driver I see is drunk, stoned, or texting?

    I was also very careful and cautious when I worked around other workers or people.  Humans are much less predictable than nature and technology.  Helping workers change their priorities so that they put safety ahead of production would probably save a lot of lives.  Many people talk about safety and how important it is, but their actions don't support what they say.  Many years ago I managed workers.  During safety training I came across a sign and attitude that showed me what was important on the job.  The sign went something like this:

    When bosses walk up to employees and immediately ask about production, the employees know that production is more important than safety.
    I kept a copy of this sign on my office wall and always tried to ask "my guys" about safety as soon as I saw them on the work site.

    Educating workers to truly make safety the most important part of the job would be the best solution.

    •  According to the Frontline documentary (19+ / 0-)

      The pressure is very strong to schedule work and repair on as many towers as possible to maximize profits.

      Workers who skip safety procedures do so because of the intense pressure to finish the job as quickly as possible or be replaced.  The contractors make more profit when they push workers to complete jobs more quickly.

      There also seems to be significant turnover in the field, so new workers are frequently brought on with very little training.  Costs are also cut (and profit margins increased) by making workers use old and outdated safety equipment.  Many of them talked of having to purchase their own tools and equipment - ridiculous for someone earning on $10 to $11 an hour.

      "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty." Edward R. Murrow

      by Betty Pinson on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 07:11:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The race to the bottom is fierce in this field. (15+ / 0-)
      My first rule was that my safety was more important than the job or their results.  If an employer did not want me to do the job in a safe manner, they could find someone else.
      This is a field where there is always someone else to find, and they absolutely will do so.  They just flat don't want to pay what it costs for reliably safe operation, and they don't want to take the time to guarantee safety.  Because there are enough people who need the work, they can always find someone to do it faster and cheaper.  
      •  while I totally agree with you (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        it should also be noted that you and every other cellphone subscriber are to be blamed equally.

        If AT&T started to take back to all climbing work in-house and would take the cost hit and transferred those costs to you, you guys would drop them  like a hot potato.

        Cellphone subscribers with their constant obsessive pinching about saving fractions of cents on their plans and their frequent changing back and forth between carriers are some of the most illoyal and ungrateful bastards the world has ever seen.  

        If cars were cellphones, you all would be driving Tata Nanos - or bicycles.

        If you guys could take your medicine and paid for your calls what you paid, back when Telcos ran monopolies, we wouldn't have this discussion.

        In the end the current atrocious situation in telco land is exactly what consumers - and the politicians they vote for - want.

        •  Actually, you're wrong about that. (6+ / 0-)

          Way to paint with a broad brush.  

          I would be happy to pay more for the companies to pay a decent wage and to put safety concerns ahead of shaving a few dollars off.  I make those choices constantly with my purchases and service providers.  I shop local, independent, union, and often forego purchases entirely if I can't find an good option.  (Read my comment history and see how many times I've talked about this, and urged people to do just exactly these things.)  

          I understand your point about the broader market, but unfortunately you made your statement to someone who already "takes their medicine".  And I don't even consider it to be "taking medicine"... I am happy to be supporting better conditions and better wages.  I firmly believe it benefits us all -  and from a purely selfish standpoint, I get better goods and services from people who are well paid, safe and healthy.

        •  wrong. I pay a premium for my service (9+ / 0-)

          it's not as if the savings from corner cutting are passed on to the consumer.

          they are added to the CEO and shareholder coffers

          To be a Republican, you have to believe that our economic problems are caused by the poor having too much money and the rich not having enough.

          by Tommy Jones the Band on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 01:47:12 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  This is why we need strict laws and regulations: (0+ / 0-)

          "If AT&T started to take back to all climbing work in-house and would take the cost hit and transferred those costs to you, you guys would drop them  like a hot potato."

          Safety regs that are strictly enforced, backed up by BIG fines for violations level the playing field for businesses. Think about it next time you hear a complaint about "big government".

    •  Great sign (10+ / 0-)

      The unexpected comes up among cell climbers as well. Equipment can fail. A co-worker can make a dangerous mistake. A sudden change of weather can make things risky. That's one of the reasons why the pace demanded by telecoms like ATT is so dangerous. People need time to think, doublecheck their gear and keep personal safety up front rather than worrying about impossible deadlines.

      "Don't believe everything you think."

      by BobboSphere on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 07:35:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  American exceptionalism (8+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      417els, gatorcog, DvCM, sockpuppet, indres, DuzT, BigOkie, Chi
      As long as there is demand we will have people die on the job.
      But not, apparently, in Ireland.
      ”In Ireland, if a contractor had a fatality they would go out of business as the industry is small with four or five telcos and three or four broadband wireless operators, and ten contractor companies... Everybody knows what is going on. Mess it up with a fatality, then goodbye business in Ireland.”
      Of course, Ireland can do it: they are small, they are better educated, they do not have such a diverse population, they are socialist, and besides their beer smells funny. Perhaps smallness is a clue: none of their players are too big to fail.

      Perhaps the Irish just value human life more than we do. I this the American exception that we want to exalt?

      "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

      by Orinoco on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:50:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  They are WELL REGULATED! (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sockpuppet, Chi, Orinoco

        I've recently read the safety guidelines of a british cell carrier.

        They are outsourcing like mad, and working all over the world. But if a project manager or tech notices even a hint of unsafe practices or broken safety regulations, they have standing order to shut the construction down and start a review process to find out why their processes and regulations failed in this case.

        That usually implies the contractor will get fired.

        Regulation. Somone there kicks their ass when they don't do that.

    •  I have a sign from the days when I worked in (12+ / 0-)

      regulated telecom.


      How times have changed and not for the better.

      Buddy, can you spare a paradigm?

      by jparnell on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:59:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent work! T & R. (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, JeffW, jgilhousen, DvCM, mrkvica, sockpuppet

    We can't control how bad the worst are, only how good the best are. That is the secret to progress.

    by Troubadour on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 05:51:01 AM PDT

  •  Unionization is (22+ / 0-)

    obviously the best solution, because it empowers workers to take responsibility for safety and work conditions. An outside inspection regimen (OSHA) is fine, but inspectors can't be everywhere at once.

    But before organizing become a viable option, labor laws must change. It is too hard to organize, and too easy for unscrupulous employers to fire union supporters and ignore the law.

    And it should be noted

    While calling out,”Bouncy...bouncy” to the workers below, a defective clip broke and he plunged 150 feet to his death. Autopsy results confirmed that Guilford had been smoking pot.
    what was likely confirmed is that Guilford smoked pot sometime in the last couple of weeks, not that he was intoxicated at the time of his death.

    Employers in many different fields have discovered the convenience of subcontracting, which is usually only an excuse for yet another middleman to take a cut of the cash, while insulating the corporation from the consequences of ignoring laws and exploiting their workers.

    "A lie is not the other side of a story; it's just a lie."

    by happy camper on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 05:57:23 AM PDT

    •  I Immediately Dismiss Any 'Pot' Reference! (13+ / 0-)

      Zero probable cause, no evidence whatsoever.  Our 'pot' use infatuation is nothing more than a useless way to assign guilt.  Did someone see him smoking a bone before he climbed that tower?  I assume not!  Was he awake all night due to a marital or family issue?  Who knows, but being asleep on the job (in my humble opinion) is an order of magnitude more risky.  Was he bombed on vodka?  Probably not, but he could have been drunk as shit yesterday as much as he could have smoked a joint yesterday or any day in the past couple weeks while drinking himself into oblivion to be declared guilty of pot on the job and innocent of being a drunk.

      Yes, dancing around at several hundred feet in the air - inexcusable and void of any common sense.  Defective safety equipment - inexcusable and probably illegal.

      Telco's - what pieces of shit!  The use of cellphones goes to 300,000,000, the price stays pretty much constant, the profits and tidal wave of subscriber money pours in, and they can't even do right by their workers.

  •  just to put a bad myth to rest: (21+ / 0-)

    Having more cellphone towers in an area does not increase risk from electromagnetic radiation.

    Having fewer cellphone towers in an area does increase risk from electromagnetic radiation.

    Energy declines per the inverse square law, which means that at the normal distance between a human and the nearest cell tower, the electromagnetic radiation is barely detectable.

    However when there is not a tower nearby, your cellphone steps up its power output to be able to reach whatever tower is nearest.   This increases the electromagnetic radiation coming from the cellphone, which you're holding right next to your brain.  That's where the risk is: from the handset itself when it's in high power mode to reach more distant towers.

    Always use a headset or speakerphone mode.  And don't complain about the towers if you want your mobile device to work.   For the safest overall results, you want more towers, not fewer.  And for the safety of the people who work on those towers, you don't want "low low prices," you want union jobs, even if it means paying a little more each month.

    "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

    by G2geek on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 06:32:18 AM PDT

    •  Cell tower radiation (5+ / 0-)

      Tower safety advocate Wally Reardon says the question about tower climbers and radiation has come up, but that no studies have been done on whether they might be affected.

      "Don't believe everything you think."

      by BobboSphere on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 07:25:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  tower climbers themselves may be at risk.. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BobboSphere, DvCM, marina, Odysseus

        ... from the transmitters on the towers.  But clearly the answer to that is to turn the darn thing off when it's being serviced, same as with an air traffic control radar unit or any other source of potentially hazardous radiation.  

        I have to believe those things are turned off when the techs go to work on them, otherwise there would be a ferocious stink raised about the potential risks.  

        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

        by G2geek on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:08:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Turning off the towers (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          sawgrass727, DvCM, G2geek, Chi

          I believe turning off the towers is a standard procedure. I recall reading they are often powered down at night so the service interruption from repairs and upgrades is not as noticeable.

          Of course working at night then presents its own challenges.

          "Don't believe everything you think."

          by BobboSphere on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:43:28 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Microwave burn in the 1960s (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            DvCM, G2geek, marina

            My brother used to climb towers in the 1960s when he first got into the cablevision industry.    He told me a story back then when someone forgot to check that a tower was turned off before a coworker climbed the tower.   I think he was in front of a microwave dish long enough to do serious damage to his leg.  

            My brother's own worst experiences came from simply climbing neighborhood telephone polls -- two near hits from lightning, one leaving him stunned.

            •  eeeyow, lightning. (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              DuzT, marina, Odysseus

              Every utility worker's worst nightmare.

              In telephone the rule is, if you can see it or hear it, get off the wires.  Inside wiring included.  I once tried to stretch it a bit while working on the cross-connects for a 1A2 system outside a building as a storm was brewing.  Got done, got down, ladder in vehicle, heard one hell of a thunderclap, and as I was driving down the road saw a very large tree split down the middle from a direct hit.  That was too close for me.  Your brother was lucky to get out of his alive.  

              "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

              by G2geek on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 06:28:03 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Night climbing (11+ / 0-)

            I know that many people's initial reaction to the notion of night climbing would be that it must be like driving at night without headlights, but that isn't a good analogy. In truth, it isn't at all like that.

            I found early on that there were actually some advantages in night climbing. For one, there was almost always less/no wind. For another, there was way less peripheral noise (like lawn mowers), making comm with ground crew easier. Having less of a reference to one's circumstance mitigated most of the unease one might have at height, although most climbers don't have that anyway.

            During the summer, it was generally much more hospitable in terms of temperature and humidity, although the converse isn't so beneficial (I climbed in every month in the Chicago area—I once took down a tower when it was 7° out—bright sunshine and no wind, but cold soaked metal is still cold soaked). You probably don't want to hear about my two heat stroke experiences.

            In an urban environment, there is usually plenty of light (ask any urban, would-be, amateur astronomer about that) but modern LED head lamps mitigate much of the concern about light. Surprisingly, much of what one does on a tower could be done blindfolded—think wrenches on bolts, clamps on masts, plugging in cables, etc., so light isn't the absolute requirement one might think.

            •  Thank you (6+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              exatc, DvCM, G2geek, DuzT, BigOkie, KenBee

              Thank you for sharing your insights.  it's great when people with actual hands-on experience add their observations to the comments.

              "Don't believe everything you think."

              by BobboSphere on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 10:42:24 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  yow, dude, watch out for the heat. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Heat is a killer.   So is dehydration: can cause thromboembolism, which almost killed a well-known Kossack who is a subject-matter expert on the religious right.  

              Good that you're not scared of heights.

              Very interesting points about working at night.  I'm one of the wimpy types who's never done outside plant, so it never even occurred to me that anyone climbed at night unless they were pulling heroics after a natural disaster.  

              "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

              by G2geek on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 06:34:25 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  Excellent point, G2geek: (14+ / 0-)
      And for the safety of the people who work on those towers, you don't want "low low prices," you want union jobs, even if it means paying a little more each month.
      I daresay you could broaden that contention to something like for the safety of the nation, you don't want 'low low prices,' you want union jobs.

      Unions are the reason the US ever had a middle class.

      LBJ & Lady Bird, Sully Sullenberger, Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Drew Brees: Texas is No Bush League! -7.50,-5.59

      by BlackSheep1 on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 07:28:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent diary (11+ / 0-)

    Saw the Frontline show last week, it was shocking.  It showed the ridiculous amount of "middle-men" contractors in this field that work to lower wages and evade responsibility for accidents.

    In addition to unionization, this industry needs better regulation to limit the excessive subcontracting that leads to lax oversight.

    "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty." Edward R. Murrow

    by Betty Pinson on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 07:03:04 AM PDT

  •  I do think that people with cell phones (7+ / 0-)

    (I don't use one by choice) could be a part in demanding better wages and safety.

    Choosing the companies with the best safety records, any that are union etc.

    And of course being willing to pay a fair price for their phones and service.

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature.

    by ZenTrainer on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 07:14:03 AM PDT

  •  Hubby works for a company that designs (10+ / 0-)

    communications systems, mostly for emergency services (fire, rescue, police).  With local governments getting squeezed hard on tax revenues, every project goes to the lowest of the low bidders, so there's a lot of incentive to cut costs on everything.  That really feeds the market for fly-by-night climbers/riggers.

  •  Very nicely done. You could write for 'Frontline' (8+ / 0-)

    tipped and reccd for the combination of the issue and the quality of the diary.

    An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

    by MichiganChet on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 07:58:02 AM PDT

    •  Thanks for your kind words. (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sawgrass727, DvCM, mrkvica, DuzT, ladybug53, KenBee

      Much of the information in this diary comes from the excellent research done by Ryan Knutson and Liz Day of Frontline. Their work also pointed me to writings of other people like Craig Lekutis from whom I was able to gain some understanding of the industry. Wally Reardon was very helpful to me as well.

      Tower climbers really are starting to speak out publicly. It's a small beginning, but a hopeful one.

      "Don't believe everything you think."

      by BobboSphere on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 08:35:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And more power to'em (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I for one would be perfectly OK to see my Cell phone bills rise a bit to ensure they are treated fairly and paid appropriately for the hazard they face so we can all play 'Angry Birds'.

        An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

        by MichiganChet on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 11:57:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  My buddy fell from a tower in 07 (27+ / 0-)

    He actually worked for AT&T. While he was laid up in th hospital with his entire right side of his body crushed, they sent an "insurance" guy to take a statement. Apparently, my friend said something wrong and AT&T decided they would not take the hit for this. They stiffed him for the medical bills.

    Well, the doctors and the hospital need to be paid for their months of work getting this man back on his feet so they sued my friend. The bills were around $200k. The only way my friend could cover this was to sue AT&T. In the year it took to get everything resolved, my friend had to file for bankruptcy. He lost his house in foreclosure.

    Here's a dude that played by the rules. He worked hard to support his family. The corporation decided that he was expendable and allowed this to ruin his life for a couple of years. He's back on his feet again working in a different industry and loves his new career but it didn't have to go down like it did if the phone company just did the right thing.

    i just baptized andrew breitbart into the church of islam, planned parenthood, the girl scouts and three teachers unions. - @blainecapatch

    by bobinson on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 08:00:09 AM PDT

    •  What a goddamned shame (9+ / 0-)

      In my reading, ATT kept coming up as most brutal of the telecoms in an industry not known for its humanitarian impulses. Even viciously anti-union Verizon has a better safety record than ATT. It's situations like you described that drive people like Craig Lekutis and Wally Reardon to document the truth behind those slick cell phone ads that assault us from all directions.

      Thank you for sharing this painful story.

      "Don't believe everything you think."

      by BobboSphere on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 08:23:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Its the Procter&Gamble effect (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The problem for many of us in the telco industry can be best described as the P&G effect.

        P&G is a company that does not do research and development  and does not produce any products. They have outsourced absolutely everything. Their basic business is buying research and development, buying products, brand them and resell them at a hefty markup.

        And they are, unfortunately, quite successful this way.

        And apparently, this is the textbook example of a successful company for any MBA having passed an exam for the last 2 or 3 decades.  They all dream of being little P&Gs, putting "brown sauce" labels on crap and counting the money.

        Every telco is hit by this plague, but, apparently, some more than others. Yet.

    •  Crap like this (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bobinson, DvCM, mrkvica, BigOkie

      is yet another reason health care costs are spiraling.

      While your friend was forced into litigation, the hospital wasn't getting paid. And they probably had many of these 200k bills in a similar situation.

      And how would a hospital cover this? Jack up rates.

      "What could BPossibly go wrong??" -RLMiller "God is just pretend." - eru

      by nosleep4u on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:19:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Should have been a workers' comp issue (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      417els, bobinson, DvCM, KenBee

      Injured on the job and should have been covered by mandatory workers' comp including disability pay.   Workers' comp typically will deny if there has been a serious violation of safety rules, etc, assuming that safety was otherwise enforced on the job site.   When a workers' comp carrier wrongly denies a claim, I often see the employer fight on behalf of the employee...the employer is paying premiums, especially for high risk labor classifications, to make sure that coverage happens.  

      Not trying to re-litigate your friend's situation.   I'm very sorry for his situation and it's too bad that the workers' comp system apparently failed him too.

      •  Workers comp (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bobinson, DvCM, mrkvica, BigOkie, KenBee

        Was completely gutted in a lot of states in the 90s, thanks to the previous round of Republican bullshit. I'm a little jaded on this, because it pretty much put my dad out of business.

        It is remarkable to me that all of the things that made this country great- workers compensation, child labor laws, food safety, social security - all came about so rapidly (within a window of about 30 years), and they've all been meticulously dismantled over the last 40.

        We already have death panels. They're called insurance companies.

        by aztecraingod on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 10:45:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  AT&T ended up paying the bills (6+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BobboSphere, DvCM, mrkvica, DuzT, BigOkie, KenBee

        When the big company and it's insurance company decide not to simply pay the medical bills, it becomes a big, years-long deal. In retrospect, what my friend sees as the end result is that he was so worn down by the whole legal battle that he was in no position to go for extra damages from AT&T. All they ended up covering was the medical bills. There were no living expenses during recuperation and no lump sum victim payment at the end.

        It's like buying a new car at the dealership. They just wear you down for a couple of hours until you just say, "Screw it. I'll take your sucky deal just to get out of here."

        i just baptized andrew breitbart into the church of islam, planned parenthood, the girl scouts and three teachers unions. - @blainecapatch

        by bobinson on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 11:11:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  not surprising, but still shocking (8+ / 0-)

    I worked a brief stint as a tower climber about a decade ago, for what could rightly be described as a "fly-by-night" kinda outfit, and I only lasted a couple weeks before deciding the $10/hour I was making probably wasn't worth the risk. Don't know how safety-conscious they were, as it was awhile ago and I don't really have anything to compare them to, but definitely gave me a bad gut-feeling so I GTFO, and never once regretted it for a second. Insane to read that many are still making what I thought was ridiculous a decade ago....very sad.

  •  Why is this? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BobboSphere, sawgrass727

    This isn't something that should be intrinsically as dangerous as it is.  It has been well understood for decades how to design some measure of safety into the steps and maintenance platforms on those towers, and how to train people not to fall off.

    And a lot of this appears to be people ignoring the existing rules.  This happens because the costs of people falling off are socialized -- nobody is held responsible.  It is, over all, cheaper for employers to follow safety rules, unless you really don't value people (and even if you don't, it's still good business practice not to have your employees falling off towers).

    •  Not really. Ever hear of dead peasant's (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DvCM, DuzT, KenBee

      insurance?  Or to put it another way, if one of these companies can make a million dollars when one of their employees dies and only be fined $750 then they actually have a legal obligation to discourage their workers from following safety rules.

      There is no saving throw against stupid.

      by Throw The Bums Out on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 10:37:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Unacceptable (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    YucatanMan, BobboSphere, 417els, DvCM, KenBee

    I cannot believe that people are forced to do this dangerous job without the proper training, and for only $10/hour.

    The increase in cellphone bills to provide ample training and a fare wage for these workers would be negligible, even if users took the the entire hit and not the shareholders.

    Thanks for raising awareness.

  •  I am/was a hobby climber… (9+ / 0-)

    I'm a ham radio guy, and as a species, we're all cheap. Consequently, if we want to put up a tower/antenna, we either do it ourselves or find someone to "help" (as in "you go up, and I'll help by sending stuff up to you") us do it as cheaply as possible. I haven't been on a tower in over a dozen years (the last time was disassembly of my own installation in 1998) but I had an interesting career.

    I started out helping a friend. He had a 60' tower in his back yard and needed to put up an antenna (by the way, ham antennas are big—his was only slightly larger than average, with a 24' boom and six elements, the longest of which was probably about 30'). He had a belt but wasn't interested in trying it out that high, so I volunteered. I was probably 30 years old.

    The short version is I got very experienced and well known in the ham community as willing, so I wound up working on a lot of projects—more than 70 by my count some years ago, and several of those 70 involved multiple projects. My system alone probably encompassed 30 or 40 trips to the top over the 20 years I had it.

    My experience ranged from towers as low as 35' and a VHF antenna (small) to 140' with multiple large arrays. I've found that among climbers, the attitude is, "140' is all you've been up?" to that of non-climbers, whose attitude is "holy crap, 50'? Aren't you scared?" In truth, I wasn't. I'm not sure why it didn't bother me. I understood not having a fear of heights in an airplane, because one is utterly disconnected from the earth from an airplane, but on a tower, one can see just exactly how high one is and what's holding one up. And I freak out going up to cliff edges or balcony edges.

    In my early days, I "free climbed" (scramble on up and then belt in at the working level) and gave no thought to unstrapping and restrapping to get around impedimentia, but as I got older, I recalibrated my thinking with some logic, and in later years always had at least one supplemental attachment to what I was climbing, no matter how high I was. I shudder now when I think of some of those early climbs.

    The higher one gets, the more one needs better communications with ground crew than the "holler" method. And, an aside, ground crew are usually insulated from neighborhood noise like lawnmowers, so don't understand why the topside guy can't hear them, particularly as they often, unthinkingly, tend to vocalize horizontally, rather than up. One would think that hand held two way radios should have been axiomatic when working on ham towers, but surprisingly, they weren't. Only on structures above around 80' were they regularly employed, but I can count on a hand and a half the number of >80' structures I worked on.

    I see this is getting way long for a comment—is this worth a diary?

    I'll close by saying I learned an immense amount from my tower climbing activities, and developed quite an array of tips, techniques, and procedures to both enhance the job and to be safer. I even did several presentations to local groups. I don't particularly yearn to strap on my belt again (nor does my wife support the notion)—22 years was enough. However, I sure have some great memories.

    •  Thank you for sharing this (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      exatc, sawgrass727, 417els, DvCM, mrkvica, KenBee

      As young 'uns we often take risks that make us shudder when we get older. Assuming we survive. Maybe it's Darwinian, I don't know.

      I do remember a saying among sailors that stuck with me, especially because during my high school and college years, sailing a small boat during Chesapeake Bay storm warnings was the adrenaline rush of my little circle of sailing nut friends.

      "There are bold sailors and there are old sailors. But not too many old bold sailors".

      We always assumed we would be among the old and bold. That turned out to be true, but fate could have easily arranged another ending.

      "Don't believe everything you think."

      by BobboSphere on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:32:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Me too (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BobboSphere, DvCM, exatc, Odysseus, KenBee

      I've worked on a lot of ham towers, being one myself.   I've almost been pulled off a 120' tower by a 20m 5 element on a 56' boom when trying to move it off the mast to another mast so we could rotate it to repair an element on the end of the boom that had snapped off.  That missing element half made the antenna completely out of balance.  Took all my strength to stay on the tower until the second climber could move and assist.

      In 2002 a friend I went to college with fell from his tower killing him.  I haven't climbed since.

      When I'm stupid and incompetent financially, I get calls from collection agencies and higher interest rates. When the 1% are stupid and incompetent financially they get billions from the government.

      by tarminian on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 11:59:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Part of my acquired bag o' tricks… (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        tarminian, KenBee

        …was developed from dealing with asymmetric loads. I had a 3 el 40M beam at 90' that I'd done some repair on and when I got it back up to the mast, I could not twist to boom to elements-horizontal to save my life. I needed more leverage (or a third hand). It took another trip up after the owner found a cheap strap wrench in his tool barn. It worked, but I knew there was something better. There was/is: Vise-Grip™

        Don't know what it goes for now, but it was the best $20 I spent back in the day. Something as simple as realigning a mast in a rotor after a wind storm was duck soup with this thing. It's been in my tower bag ever since.

        Sounds like you might have been using a PVRC fixture. Although I never wound up building one, the principle was ingenious for getting big arrays tipped over for maintenance.


        •  Exactly (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          That is what it was.    Sometimes you need an enforcer to get the job done.

          When I'm stupid and incompetent financially, I get calls from collection agencies and higher interest rates. When the 1% are stupid and incompetent financially they get billions from the government.

          by tarminian on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 06:35:25 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  In the 1970s I worked in the oil fields in... (10+ / 0-)

    ...Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.  It was a summer job.

    I was in a crew that could take down an oil rig, move it to another location and put it up again in one day.  It took 16 hours depending on the driving distance.

    Oil Filed worker

    It was non-union and extremely dangerous.  The oil industry is deadly.  I took a dead man's job, saw lots of people get really hurt and the man that took my job died not long after.  I remember going to bars with oil field workers and everybody seemed to be missing fingers.


    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:22:17 AM PDT

  •  Behold the wonders of the "free market" (8+ / 0-)

    I guess that includes free falling now. And Romney laughably claims that Obama has imposed crushing regulations on industry. Would that were true.

    If Romney was president, this would get even worse.

    "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

    by kovie on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:43:54 AM PDT

  •  Hey, I get a cheap rate on my cellphone service! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    What do I care who gets killed, it's not me?  That is the prevalent attitude among Americans nowadays.  There is no sense of common purpose with those who provide our services since these cell phone tower climbers do not tend to be our neighbors.  

    So they fall, they fall.  Let us hope that they do so quietly and don't make too much of a mess when they hit the ground so it will not splatter on my new SUV.

    We now have energy deregulation here in Jersey.  For a while we got calls all day long from "energy companies" who promised to lower our electric bill by 10%.  My neighbor said, sure, lower my bill by 10% without any questions asked.   All he wanted was cheap.  Those cheaper companies get cheap power by contracting with generation plants that use dirty coal for their power have use very few clean alternatives, thus making everyone's life chancier in the long run.  But people don't think about that.   They just want stuff cheap, that's how we have become programmed in the 21st Century.  

    And it feels like I'm livin'in the wasteland of the free ~ Iris DeMent, 1996

    by MrJersey on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 01:42:58 PM PDT

    •  consumer price does not have to rise (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DuzT, Odysseus

      the CEO and shareholders just have to be a little less wealthy

      this is a common canard among the right wingers

      "can't pay people/provide safe conditions or else the price will rise"

      it's total BS

      To be a Republican, you have to believe that our economic problems are caused by the poor having too much money and the rich not having enough.

      by Tommy Jones the Band on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 02:11:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You know that, and I know that, but to most (0+ / 0-)

        consumers, they just don't give a shit.  That's why we have Walmart making billions on cheap shit made under horrific conditions by low paid Chinese workers.  If anyone cared about safety and working conditions, Walmart would not exist.

        And it feels like I'm livin'in the wasteland of the free ~ Iris DeMent, 1996

        by MrJersey on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 02:16:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Actually, (0+ / 0-)

          Walmart COULD exist, IF they went back to the way Sam Walton worked.  Problem there is no one wants to spend the time finding American made stuff that can  be sold at a reasonable price when all they have to do is hit up Alibaba on the internet.

  •  This brought back memories... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe, BobboSphere, Odysseus, KenBee

    ...of working windmill towers back in the late 70s.  Often in back-country far from medical assistance, using materials and equipment adapted from the communications industry,... training?  ...nah, we made it up as we went along.  All weather (in Vermont), all terrain, we'd set towers and windmills, get the systems running and leave, usually in one day.
         We'd ALWAYS freeclimb to the top of where we were going and then belt in to work.  We worked for a small windmill company as factory techs.  Our crews were typically two.
         Three or four years of that was enough for me.  I haven't been too far off the ground since.  I'll write up some stories some time if anyone's interested.  We never killed anybody (for which I will be eternally grateful), but we had a few spectacular "crash and burns".
         If there ever was a trade that deserved unionization, it's tower jockeying.  It needs solid standards, realistic training, perhaps even apprentisships.  OSHA involvement would be terrific; any reasons it hasn't is a result of traitorous budget cutting.   ...but I admit I know nothing about what agencies DO have their fingers in the mix.  It's been a long time.  I've enjoyed my earth and waterbound trades, and don't miss that "rush" much at all.  

  •  i tried to watch the frontline doc on this. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    couldn't get thru 1/2 of it, tho.  very disturbing & i didn't want to have bad dreams about what i saw.

    how are we any different, as a country, from those we love to criticize & point our fingers at for being 3rd-world nations & having poor or non-existent laws & regulations that protect workers & citizens?

    the plutocracy won't be satisfied until we're fighting each other to the death for the crumbs they deign to throw to us.

  •  I climbed 'stacks. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BobboSphere, Odysseus, KenBee

    Transitioning from ascending to the work area and back was a hazard. At some sites, we tied off to the rail & had to unhook to step to the grid. I made numerous adaptations so one was never untethered at 250'.

    We were not paid a lot, but back then there were perks. Payroll was always sending a check as my expenses exceeded my advances. 500 hours of overtime in a year.

    Of course, living in a hotel for 26 weeks has its drawbacks. It was difficult to be a vegetarian and eat out three times a day. I resumed eating meat.

    My family, without exception, was relieved when I got furloughed as part of Reagan's FU to the environment.

    Thanks for the diary. It brought back some memories.

    Think left. Drive right.

    by Robert Helmuth on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 08:37:57 PM PDT

  •  Relevant true story (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BobboSphere, Odysseus, KenBee

    Co-worker and his brother did steeple jack work, replacing those tall antenna light bulbs. Brothers made a contest out of how fast they could climb and descend. One radio station owner agreed to pay them $$$ , then reneged as it only took them 15 minutes. They told him well, it will only take 15 minutes to put the bad bulb back in. He paid them.

  •  As A Retired Hourly Worker (0+ / 0-)

    in the construction trades for forty years I can say with complete honesty and certainty that the health, safety and welfare of construction workers is the very last concern of construction companies, union and non-union. I can't count the times I refused to work in unsafe conditions.

    "It is the responsibility and duty of everyone to help the deserving underprivileged and less fortunate among us."

    by sichuan on Sat Feb 28, 2015 at 02:00:08 PM PST

  •  Crazy buncha guyz! (0+ / 0-)

    About 20 or so years ago, working at a small local radio station, we had some tower work done.  I don' t know what the  men were earning, but I know they were really free spirited!  In the middle of January, three feet of snow on the ground, winds blowing, they were up in the air and loving it.  They were always laughing and good natured.  I saw a couple of them racing their trucks down our narrow, hairpinned driveway, and heard about a couple of bar fights, too.  I'm sorry a group of guys who obviously have such a zest for life being treated in the workforce so poorly.  Not surprised, though.  Most of us are.

  •  Thinking of Safety is gone in the US (0+ / 0-)

    With our no employee, subcontract everything policy it is wild out there. And the people around these workers are at risk also. But we have more people then we need so no big deal.

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