Workers at Heights Safety and Health Initiative

Tower Worker: Wally Reardon, Project Coordinator, worked on towers for nearly 14 years, and has interviewed those who have survived serious injury and surviving family members who lost loved ones. In 2010, Reardon won one of the nation's highest occupational health and safety awards for grassroots activism.Tower Worker: Wally Reardon, Project Coordinator, worked on towers for nearly 14 years, and has interviewed those who have survived serious injury and surviving family members who lost loved ones. In 2010, Reardon won one of the nation's highest occupational health and safety awards for grassroots activism.Wally Reardon, Project Coordinator
 with Pat Rector, Project Advisor
Occupational Health Clinical Centers
(315) 298-2312 or (315) 432-8899  (Syracuse, New York)
wallyj16@gmail.com  and rectorp@upstate.edu

Problem: In fast-growing tower industry, workers are still getting seriously hurt or dying from incidents that are both foreseeable and largely preventable. This occurs despite OSHA regulations regarding 100% tie-off and industry-touted safety claims about its trainings and crew conduct in the field.

Our Process: Stuff that worked and “not so much”

  1. Identifying the dead and wounded:  We began to watch for and gather news accounts of tower accidents, wherever we could find them. This included TV and newspaper accounts, online sources (especially Wireless Estimator and Comtrain USA) and other industry publications, state government fatality data, OSHA reports and Data Base Initiative, and victims’ advocacy groups, such as United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities. Workers’ centers have helped us try to find family members, especially immigrants.
  2. Connect with survivors directly: That includes both workers who survived incident and failures (equipment, compliance), workers who witnessed incident, or surviving family members. We typically wait a few weeks after a fatality.
  3. Listen to and learn from initial accounts: Not only facts about immediate causes, but the context and culture of the work; pressures on crews; looking into any possible structural concerns. We talk with investigators (OSHA and police), reporters, first responders, if possible, online research about the company, broadcast historians, or radio engineers and the FCC.
  4. Identify trusted allies: regulators, statisticians, unions, and any worker advocates, especially worker centers, who have a proven interest in the primacy of worker health and safety.
  5. Create occasions for the sharing of those accounts:  we held a conference. In order to overcome fear, and gather workers together, we do all of the following:
    • Call and email workers, and use Facebook; because the philosophy of our approach is that the workers are the experts
    • Pull in regulators or occupational health care providers
    • Speak at gatherings where individuals or family members were directly affected by a fatality, or meet with people who actually witnessed a death
    • Suggest a structure of analysis and action that can move the group forward and maintain some group cohesiveness
  6. Offered interested workers a chance to voice ideas about what measures, standards, practices, equipment re-design, etc. might have prevented the injury or fatality.
  7. Create a mechanism for the ongoing engagement of workers’ perspectives on health and safety that are persistent and vigorous. Such a mechanism would also inform workers of their rights.
  8. Develop policy recommendations on safety standards to inform law makers, engineers, industry decision makers, statisticians, regulators, and workers themselves.
  9. Develop grassroots and worker advocate training to spot and document abuses, compliance failures, imminent dangers and pressure regulatory enforcement and the strengthening of standard.
  10. Engage workers in activity that helps to set a research agenda for safe equipment, structures, and processes. This would include workers themselves learning more about relevant health and safety standards in other countries, and comparing them to what exists in the U.S.

Possible occupational applications of the project: communication tower workers; wind turbine workers; water tank workers; ironworkers; window washers, steeplejacks, masons, roofers, construction workers, silo and grain elevator workers; electricians; utility workers; scaffolding builders; tower crane operators, firefighters.

We are developing a national project on this issue and would welcome comments, suggestions, and help in identifying worker activists in your state who may want to help in some way with this project.

Remember your friends in “high places”!
Fight for standards, practices and a pace of work that will keep you and your friends alive.