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Washington state adopts telecommunications safety rules

Washington state adopts telecommunications safety rules

Washington regulators have adopted new safety and health rules to protect cell tower climbers and telecommunication workers in the state, becoming the third state to adopt such rules.

The new rules adopted by the Department of Labor and Industries take effect Jan. 1, 2018, and were developed in consultation with industry stakeholders including communication tower owners, subcontractors, labor and safety representatives and companies that sell telecommunication services, according to a statement published by the department on Thursday.

The most significant change is the new wireless section, which covers radio-frequency hazards (nonionizing radiation), according to the statement. Nonionizing radiation can pose a considerable health risk to workers if not properly controlled.

The rules also contain current and revised requirements covering the expected hazards of this work, which includes host employer/contractor responsibilities, microwave/laser technology, control of hazardous energy, working during hours of darkness, fall protection, remote cell tower sites and emergency response and rescue.

The cell tower and telecommunications sector is a growing area of concern for state and federal workplace safety regulators. Six communications towers workers died in 2016, twice the number who died in 2015, with 12 workers perishing in 2014, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

OSHA does not have a specific standard to regulate communication tower work, although a communication tower safety regulation is in the prerule phase, according to the 2017 Unified Agenda published in July outlining the Trump administration’s regulatory priorities and direction.

Two other states, North Carolina and Michigan, have telecommunication safety rules.

“We hope our rules can serve as a model for other states to quickly stop these fully preventable worker fatalities,” Anne Soiza, Department of Labor and Industries’ assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said in the statement.

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