If you’ve ever been mad at your cell phone carrier because your call was dropped, you’re contributing to why this line of work has been dubbed “the most dangerous job in America” by Edwin Foulke, a top administrator at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.The competition between cell phone providers for faster network is literally causing workers who climb cell phone towers to fall to their deaths.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the pressure to build out the network has been a contributing factor to fatalities,” Steve Watts, a former risk manager at AT&T, told Liz Day at ProPublica and Ryan Knutson at PBS Frontline.
The two news agencies conducted a recently published investigation that showed death toll in these workers peaked between 2006 and 2008 “as AT&T merged its network with Cingular’s and scrambled to handle traffic generated by the iPhone.”
“It’s the wild, wild west of the technology industry,” said Victor Guerrero, a construction project manager and former climber. “You’ve got to have a problem to hang 150 feet in the air on an 8-inch strap. You’ve got to be insane.”
And there are more cell phone users in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. AT&T had more death tolls on the job than Sprint, Verizon and Team Mobile — three of its main competitors.
Our investigation with ProPublica into Cell Tower Deaths vividly portrays the risky, high-pressure work of cell tower climbers. In the past 10 years, climbers have died at 10 times the rate of other construction workers as cell carriers raced to build and service America’s expanding cellular infrastructure.
“People don’t understand what the danger is to tower climbing,” former climber Robert Hale told ProPublica and PBS. “One person drops a wrench, it’ll kill somebody.”
ProPublica says that “time pressure often leads tower hands to use a technique called free-climbing, in which workers don’t connect their safety harnesses to the tower. This allows them to move up, down and around more quickly, but leaves them without fall protection. In more than half of the tower fatalities we examined, workers were free-climbing, even though government safety regulations strictly prohibit it.”
These climbers generally earn $10 to $11 per hour.
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