On April 15, 2015, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) published a request for information (RFI) on the occupational hazards experienced during communication tower construction and maintenance activities. More specifically, OSHA is seeking information on the hazards experienced when constructing and maintaining communication towers, current efforts to abate those hazards, and additional measures that could be utilized to protect employees constructing and maintaining communication towers.
The RFI expresses OSHA’s concern over the 91 fatalities experienced in the tower construction and maintenance industry between 2003 and 2013, including 13 fatalities in 2013 alone. The RFI further notes that OSHA does not currently have any specific communication tower safety regulations, although many of the hazardous components of tower construction and maintenance are covered by OSHA regulations (general fall protection, guardrail standards, personal fall arrest systems, ladder safety systems, etc.)
Given OSHA’s justifications and the nature of the RFI’s specific inquiries, we expect that OSHA may be developing a record on which to propose specific communication tower safety regulations. In lieu of, or in addition to, potential regulatory changes, OSHA may utilize the information gathered from the RFI for a “hazard alert.” While hazard alerts are not regulations per se, they can have the same practical force of regulations because the OSH Act imposes on all employers a “general duty” to provide employees a safe workplace. OSHA has previously interpreted the “general duty” clause to require employers to adopt recommendations in hazard alerts.
Owners of communication towers and those employing tower climbers should be aware of the RFI and the OSHA actions it is likely foreshadowing. Impacted employers should consider the RFI an opportunity to apprise OSHA of the measures they have voluntarily put in place to protect their workers. They should also consider providing insights into those measures that may be impractical, infeasible, or otherwise impose costs without concordant safety benefits.
The RFI is linked here. Comments are due June 15, 2015. If you have any questions, Kelley Drye’s Communications, Labor and Employment and OSHA practice groups are happy to help.
 80 Fed. Reg. 20,185.