Regulatory Developments

New Safety Rules Protect Cell Tower Workers in Washington State

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has adopted new rules to safeguard cell tower climbers and telecommunication workers. Washington is the third state in the nation to adopt rules that reflect emerging telecommunication technology.

Telecommunication manual high worker engineer repairing 260 feet tall mobile base station (communication tower), high angle of view.

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Communication tower worker deaths in the U.S. are increasing dramatically. For tower climbers, the death rate is 10 times the average for construction workers.

According to L&I, the legislative changes are the final step in a multi-year effort to update the state’s 40-year-old telecommunication rules. The new provisions take effect January 1, 2018.

The most significant change is the new wireless provisions, which cover radio-frequency hazards (non-ionizing radiation), which can pose a considerable health risk if not properly controlled. The rules also contain current and revised requirements covering the expected hazards of the work. Other topics addressed are 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, which like Washington are state-plan states, have also adopted telecommunication safety rules. L&I safety and health assistant director Anne Soiza is hopeful the new rules “will serve as a model for other states to quickly stop these fully preventable worker fatalities.” Federal OSHA has not promulgated comparable regulations.