Cell Coverage Brings Deadly Risk for Tower Climbers

50 workers died between 2003 and 2011
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 22, 2012 6:17 PM CDT
Cell Coverage Brings Deadly Risk for Tower Climbers
File photo of a technician climbing a cell phone tower.   (AP Photo/Great Falls Tribune, Stuart White, file)

Next time someone is carping about spotty cell coverage, keep in mind this investigation by ProPublica and PBS' Frontline: Fifty tower climbers died in accidents between 2003 and 2011 as the industry raced to get everyone connected. A slew of factors contributes, from inadequate training, to shoddy equipment, to a cowboy culture among workers that embraces drugs and alcohol on the job in combination with daredevil risks, to on-site supervisors giving tacit approval to take shortcuts in order to meet ever-rising demand.

“I don’t think there’s any question that the pressure to build out the network has been a contributing factor to fatalities,” says a former risk manager at AT&T. The big carriers generally hand off the work to subcontractors, who in turn find other subcontractors, who in turn pay workers about $10 an hour. The investigation found that 15 of the workers died on jobs for AT&T, five for T-Mobile, two for Verizon, and one for Sprint. The deaths peaked from 2006 to 2008, about the time AT&T was struggling to handle iPhone traffic. The good news is that deaths have decreased since 2009, but the push for 4G has many worried they will spike again. Read the full investigation here. (More cell towers stories.)

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