Top dangers of cell tower work, and how to receive compensation after an injury
Cell towers are tall structures that support antennas and transceivers that transmit and receive radio waves to communicate with mobile devices. They are typically 50 to 200 feet tall, but some reach as high as 2,000 feet. With our ever-increasing reliance on online communication for both personal and professional purposes, they have rapidly become an essential component of our wireless communication system.
As of 2021, there were 250,000 cell towers in the United States. However, with the growth of new 5G networks, it’s estimated there will be a tremendous increase in the number of these towers in the coming years. Additionally, Congress recently enacted the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $65 billion to expand broadband coverage to rural areas and will require the construction of more cell towers throughout the U.S.
The cell tower industry employs different classifications of climbers for the maintenance of existing towers and the construction of new ones. There are currently about 15,000 tower climbers in the U.S., earning an average annual salary of about $45,000. Most of these climbers are employed by private cell carriers and contractors.
Dangers for cell tower climbers
Tower climbing is fraught with danger. A joint investigation by ProPublica and PBS revealed that the tower climber death rate is 10 times greater than that of construction workers.
The following are common causes of non-fatal and fatal accidents among tower climbers:
- Falls from great heights
- Electrical hazards
- Cell tower collapse
- Lack of safety gear
- Equipment failure
- Inadequate employee training
- Falling object hazards
- Poor weather conditions
Because of the recent demand for new cell towers, cell tower workers face increasing pressure to work quickly—often for long hours and without proper safety protocols or sufficient training—leading to dangerous working conditions and even cell tower deaths.
Cell tower workers’ rights
Regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require companies to properly train and equip their workers and safeguard them against preventable hazards.
OSHA regulations assure cell tower workers’ have the right to:
- Receive training regarding workplace hazards and prevention of injury
- Access information about OSHA standards
- Access records of workplace injuries and accidents
- File a complaint with OSHA about violations of safety standards
- Be protected from employer retaliation after a complaint is filed
OSHA enforces its regulations by conducting inspections and filing reports when violations are discovered, including deadlines for correcting them. Each violation carries a penalty of $14,500. If a company fails to correct the violation, it is subject to an additional penalty of $14,500 per day. Willful or repeated violations are subject to a $145,000 penalty.
OSHA’s enforcement powers are supported by anonymous employee complaints and whistleblower protections.
Georgia’s workers’ compensation benefits for cell tower climbers
Georgia’s workers’ compensation law requires every employer with 3 or more employees to provide their employees with workers’ compensation benefits if they suffer a workplace injury. Employers who fail to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for their employees are subject to serious civil and criminal penalties.
Workers’ comp insurance is a no-fault system. This means that an injured worker does not have to prove their employer was at fault for their injury to receive benefits.
Some of the benefits under workers’ compensation in Georgia include:
- Payment of bills related to medical and hospital care, therapy, and rehabilitation. However, the treatments must be supervised by a company-approved doctor.
- Temporary total disability (TTD) payments are made if your doctor determines you can’t work or if you’re placed on “light duty,” but there is no light-duty work available. Weekly checks are generally equal to two-thirds of your average weekly wage for up to 400 weeks.
- Permanent partial disability (PPD) payments are made if you are permanently injured, but your injury only leaves you partially unable to work. Weekly checks are generally equal to two-thirds of your average weekly wage for a duration that depends on the type of disability.
- Temporary partial disability (TPD) payments are made if you are temporarily and partially disabled but can return to work with restrictions. Weekly checks are generally equal to two-thirds of your average weekly wage for up to 350 weeks.
- Death benefits paid to your family, including burial expenses up to $7,500 and a weekly payment of $675 for a variable duration and limited to a maximum of $270,000.
Workers’ compensation benefits do not include compensation for pain and suffering or punitive damages that can be awarded in personal injury cases.
Claims against third parties in Georgia
Common injuries of tower climbers include tower collapses and equipment failures. These and other hazards can involve the potential liability of third parties, such as equipment manufacturers or maintenance contractors. The workers’ compensation no-fault system does not prevent an injured worker from bringing a product liability, wrongful death or other civil action against such third parties.
While OSHA violations will not be relevant to a no-fault workers’ comp claim, they could be evidence of negligent or willful conduct of third-party defendants, particularly where egregious conduct is relevant for punitive damages.
When to contact a Georgia workers’ compensation attorney
Workers’ compensation claims often require an experienced lawyer with extensive knowledge of Georgia’s workers’ comp laws. These laws are notoriously complicated and have deadlines that must be adhered to in order to receive full compensation, so contacting an attorney early on in the process will help ensure your rights are protected.