Tower Safety Equipment

The tower climbing video that has gone nearly viral pointed out a few things.  Climbing towers is a dangerous business, best left to those who are trained for it and have the insurance.

It is true that tower climbing contractors have the responsibility to protect their own workers while working on a client’s tower.  That does not completely absolve the tower owner from liability.  It is incumbent on the tower owner to provide a safe structure to climb.  This can mean the mechanical integrity of the tower, reduction of transmitter power while workers are in high RF energy fields, and providing the proper permanently attached safety equipment on the tower itself;  Climbing ladders, ladder safety cages, rungs, elevators, and fall arresting gear.

In that tower video post, I mentioned something called a safety climb.  That is a cable, usually 3/8 inch stainless steel aircraft cable, attached, about eight inches from the climbing surface like this:

Western Electric 200 foot tower with retro fitted safety climb

The tower itself was built in 1959 and did not have this equipment when new.  This was a retro fit kit, installed in 2003, I believe.

The tower climber wears a harness with a special karabiner attached to the front and waist level.  When climbing this ladder, the karabiner slides up the cable.  If he were to fall, the karabiner has an auto-locking or braking mechanism that would stop his fall.

Tower safety climb
Tower safety climb, attached to climbing ladder

Many tower climbers, especially those that have been in the business for a while, do not like these things.  When climbing, especially if one has long legs, the tendency is to bump your knees on the bottom of the next ladder rung.  This is because the belt holds the climber’s waist making it difficult to get the rear end out, away from the ladder the way most people like to climb.  The alternative is to climb with the knees spread apart, like a frog, which is hard on the hamstrings and quite literally, a pain in the ass.  However, if a tower is so equipped, it must be used.

I have, wherever possible, retrofitted towers with these devices.  Of course, all new towers come equipped with them. In some situations, it is not possible to retrofit towers with safety climbs, either because there is no attachment point at the top of the tower that meets the OHSA spec, there is not a climbing ladder, or it would affect the tower tuning, as in an AM tower or near a TV or FM antenna.

Hundreds of gallons of ink have been spilled by Los Federals in OHSA regulations 29 CFR 1926 and 29 CFR 1910.268(g) regarding fall protection and fall protection equipment for telecommunications workers.  In this litigious world, we live in, tower owners and or their on-site representatives should know these rules and make sure they are followed.

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One thought on “Tower Safety Equipment”

  1. Towers erected long ago had zero fall appurtenances attached. It was the responsibility of the climber to know what he was doing. The legal ‘scale of justice’ and the trial lawyers have changed ‘public policy’ with reams of paper suggesting or mandating “remediation”. I call it “equalization litigation”, however, the experienced tower people I deal with hate these devices. It is the novices, wannabees, and other poorly trained individuals with little common sense that love this stuff. It is somewhat of a ‘status symbol’ for them. The problem with these devices is that they restrict the worker when handling certain instruments, antennas, or painting mitts. In over 40 years of tower ownership, I have surveyed crews, and 8 out of 10 tower professionals will shake their heads in disapproval of these devices. As far as I am concerned, common sense is the issue. The aforementioned 1800 foot tower with the TV antenna atop alongside a small climbing step mast should be fitted for small work platforms, or at least some rest stop while changing beacons. AT&T supplied rest platforms on their Type “A”, “H”, “L”, and “M” towers, but there were no cables initially. Cables were added in the ’90’s when the industry blossomed and liability issue arose.

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