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A telecommunications tower construction firm did not violate the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s general duty clause in the deaths of three workers, an administrative law judge held in a final decision of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission released Wednesday.
In Secretary of Labor v. Tower King II, the judge vacated a serious citation carrying a penalty of nearly $13,000 against Cedar Hill, Texas-based Tower King II Inc., holding that the secretary failed to meet his burden to establish a general duty cause violation.
In 2017, Tower King was contracted to perform work on a Miami TV station tower approximately 1,000 feet high with a three-armed structure at the top. Since only two of the three arms were used for broadcasting antennae, a dummy pole was attached to the third arm as a counterweight. Tower King was to remove the dummy pole and replace it with a working antenna.
Due to the hazardous nature of work involving telecommunication towers, the industry has its own set of standards developed by the American Society of Safety Engineers establishing minimum criteria for safe work practices and training for personnel performing work on communications structures, with the intent of creating an interactive process between the certifying engineer and the contractor performing the work. Once a certifying engineer calculates the load the structure can withstand, it is provided to the contractor, who uses the information to determine appropriately sized rigging equipment.
The company hired a third-party engineer to approve its plan and calculate the loads, and when the project began, Tower King installed a gin pole — a lifting device used to raise and lower parts of the tower into position — that was attached to the tower as part of the rigging system.
On Sept. 27, 2017, after completing the installation of the new antenna, the gin pole detached, falling to the ground. Three workers, including the company owner’s son, were wearing fall protection devices tethered to the gin pole, and were pulled down with it and died.
An OSHA investigator issued the company a single serious violation of the general duty clause carrying a proposed penalty of nearly $13,000. The investigator concluded that the rigging had been overloaded, and that the third-party engineer miscalculated the imposed loads, resulting in an undercalculation of force on the connection by nearly 12,000 pounds. The investigator also found that the rigging plan provided by Tower King to the engineer was missing information or had incorrect information.
Tower King contested the citation before the OSHRC.
The OSHRC administrative law judge vacated the citation. Although the secretary argued that Tower King’s rigging plan presented to the engineer was insufficient because it did not include the angles of the rigging components, the judge noted that the plan provided the engineer with information regarding the track, arbor on the tower and gin pole, and that the angle of a sling would not change the way the load would be calculated.
The judge did note that Tower King did use a longer gin pole that what was calculated by the engineer, but because this fact was not included in the OSHA citation, it could not be use by the secretary to meet his burden of proof, she said.
The secretary also presented no evidence that Tower King recognized the deficiencies in its rigging plan, said the administrative judge. Therefore, she held that the secretary failed to meet his burden of establishing that Tower King violated the general duty clause and vacated the citation.
The owner of Tower King did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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.