Investigators: State to act on cell tower issue

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by By / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on November 13, 2009 at 1:16 PM

Video: State to act on cell-tower safety issue

Take one look and you can see the risks.

Earlier this year -- the nation's top workplace safety regulator said the people who build and upgrade communication towers have the most dangerous job in America. One slip can spell disaster.

In the past few months in Washington state, two telecommunications workers fell to their deaths working at cellular sites - Jeremy Combs, a husband and father of two from Pierce County, and Gary Sivey, an East Wenatchee college student.

Sivey's young widow feels robbed of their future together.

"He was a very kind, fun-loving guy. I keep asking myself why?" said Alisha Sivey. "I feel lost. I don't know what to do."

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A KING 5 Investigation shows that as workers face tremendous pressures to upgrade, the new wireless frontier federal and state oversight is grounded in the past.

"In our state, it seems like the law is very outdated in this area," said Steve Cant, Washington's top workplace safety official.

He admits that our state's telecommunication safety laws were written in 1975, long before the wireless boom.

The outdated law allows a tower worker to climb to any height without fall protection, but a construction worker - by contrast - has to strap on a safety harness when climbing over 25 feet.

"Not having had any fatalities, this wasn't really on our list as a high priority," said Cant.

Since we started raising questions, the Department of Labor and Industries is modernizing its safety laws for tower workers.

"We need to now put this on our agenda for an update," said Cant.

Cant has ordered increased on-site inspections of workers on towers or other elevated cell sites, more training about this unique industry for inspectors, and a revamp of telecommunications safety laws.

"These two incidents tell us it's time to step up and do our part," he said.

In addition to state law, tower work is also regulated by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Our investigation found that OSHA ignored warnings from inside its own agency about the hazards of this industry.

OSHA did not respond to our questions, as yet another tower worker falls to his death. The Tucson fatality last week was the 13th of this year nationwide.

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