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Washington state a leader in cell tower and telecommunication worker safety

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October 12, 2017 #17-039

Tumwater – Cell tower climbers and telecommunication workers in Washington will have greater protection from safety and health hazards in the future under new rules adopted last week by the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). Washington is the third state in the nation to adopt rules that encompass emerging telecommunication technology.

This is the final step in a multi-year effort to update the state's 40-year-old telecommunication rules to include new safety and health standards for communication tower workers. The new rules take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Communication-tower worker deaths in the U.S. are increasing exponentially; for tower climbers the death rate is 10 times the average for construction workers. Since the original telecommunication rules were adopted in 1973, the industry has grown rapidly, and safety and health hazards have emerged that didn't exist 40 years ago.

L&I worked closely with industry stakeholders including communication tower owners, subcontractors, labor and safety representatives, and companies that sell the telecommunication services.

"We are extremely pleased that Washington state leads the country in protecting workers' lives as profound changes in industry practices are occurring," said Anne Soiza, L&I assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. "We are truly grateful for the collaboration of many representatives from industry and labor, all who shared our commitment to preventing fatalities, serious illnesses and injuries."

The most significant change is the new wireless section, which covers radio-frequency hazards (non-ionizing radiation). Non-ionizing 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.

Two other states, North Carolina and Michigan, also have telecommunication safety rules. Federal OSHA does not have comparable specific regulations relating to communication tower work.

"We hope our rules can serve as a model for other states to quickly stop these fully preventable worker fatalities," said Soiza.

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For media information: Elaine Fischer at 360-902-5413.

Connect with L&I: Facebook (facebook.com/laborandindustries) and Twitter (twitter.com/lniwa)

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