Washington State Adopts Tower Worker Safety Rules

L&I said the most important change is a new wireless section that covers non-ionizing radiation. The rules contain requirements covering expected hazards of tower work, host employer/contractor responsibilities, microwave/laser technology, control of hazardous energy, working during darkness, fall protection, remote cell tower sites, and emergency response and rescue.

The Washington state Department of Labor & Industries has adopted new rules to protect workers who climb cell towers from safety and health hazards, making Washington the third state in the nation to adopt rules that encompass emerging telecommunication technology, according to the department. Its announcement said the adoption is the last step in a multi-year effort to update the state's 40-year-old telecommunication rules, and the new rules will take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Saying communication tower worker deaths in the United States "are increasing exponentially," the announcement said the fatality rate for tower climbers is 10 times the average for construction workers. "Since the original telecommunication rules were adopted in 1973, the industry has grown rapidly, and safety and health hazards have emerged that didn't exist 40 years ago," it said. "L&I worked closely with industry stakeholders including communication tower owners, subcontractors, labor and safety representatives, and companies that sell the telecommunication services."

"We are extremely pleased that Washington state leads the country in protecting workers' lives as profound changes in industry practices are occurring," said Anne Soiza, L&I's assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. "We are truly grateful for the collaboration of many representatives from industry and labor, all who shared our commitment to preventing fatalities, serious illnesses, and injuries."

The agency said the most important change is a new wireless section that covers non-ionizing radiation. The rules contain requirements covering expected hazards of tower work, host employer/contractor responsibilities, microwave/laser technology, control of hazardous energy, working during darkness, fall protection, remote cell tower sites, and emergency response and rescue.

North Carolina and Michigan also have telecommunication safety rules, but federal OSHA does not have comparable, specific regulations relating to communication tower work, according to L&I. "We hope our rules can serve as a model for other states to quickly stop these fully preventable worker fatalities," Soiza said.

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