A joint investigation with ProPublica

Safety Stand Down Called for on AT&T Projects

by FRONTLINE and Liz Day, ProPublica

Following a worker’s non-fatal 100-foot fall from a Texas cell tower last week, one of AT&T’s construction management firms has instituted a stand down across several states, requiring that its subcontractors review safety practices.

Plano, Texas-based Goodman Networks sent out a bulletin yesterday notifying workers of the mandatory safety stand down.

“This bulletin is being issued as a reminder of the dangers involved in our industry and to remind all of our employees and contractor personnel of the importance of planning safety into every project,” it said.

Tower climbing — a tiny field of about 10,000 workers who build and maintain TV, radio and cell towers — is among the nation’s most dangerous jobs, with a fatality rate roughly 10 times higher than the construction industry.

An investigation published this week by ProPublica and FRONTLINE found that nearly 100 tower climbers died between 2003 and 2011, 50 of them working on cell sites. AT&T had 15 fatalities on its jobs in that period, more than its three closest competitors combined, our reporting showed.

Goodman Networks, one of several firms that manage cell construction projects for AT&T, confirmed the stand down was taking place, but would not comment further on its action.

The bulletin says that by May 29, all Goodman subcontractors must certify they have had their employees review a Powerpoint presentation on safety and have reminded workers to inspect and use fall protection gear.

Because it comes during the Memorial Day weekend, when carriers typically do little tower work, the stand down is unlikely to delay AT&T service upgrades, industry sources said.

Some tower company owners expressed displeasure with the timing, however, as well as the requirements that Goodman has imposed on subcontractors.

“This is Memorial Day, and it’s a time when we’re supposed to be … with our families,” said Ed Dennis, a safety director at tower construction company Com-Tech Services. “If they really meant it, they should conduct the training themselves, on their dime.”

AT&T ordered a similar stand down in 2008, after two tower climbers died on its projects.

The company would not answer questions about the current stand down, issuing a statement similar to the one it gave ProPublica and FRONTLINE for previous stories saying that AT&T outsources tower work “to expert companies, many of which are large publicly traded firms with decades of experience.”

“Worker safety has always been a hallmark of AT&T,” the statement says.

According to a report on WirelessEstimator.com, the climber who fell from the cell site in Austin, Texas is 31-year-old Shad Lierley. His current condition is unknown.

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