The Killing Towers of the US Telecom Industry

by Bob Simpson

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.”

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