A joint investigation with ProPublica

Methodology: How We Calculated the Tower Industry Death Rate

by FRONTLINE and Liz Day, ProPublica

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which calculates annual fatality rates for a range of industries, does not have a standard code for tower climbing and, thus, does not compile uniform data on tower workers’ fatality rates.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration calculated the fatality rate for tower workers in 2008, setting out its methodology in draft reports and presentations produced as part of a joint safety initiative by OSHA and the tower industry. ProPublica and PBS FRONTLINE obtained these records.

OSHA estimated that in 2008 there were 8,695 tower workers, the records show. Based on this estimate and the number of fatalities that occurred in 2008, OSHA calculated deaths per 100,000 workers for the tower industry for that year. OSHA also compared its 2008 fatality rate for the tower industry with that of the construction industry, finding the tower industry’s rate was substantially higher than the average rate for construction occupations in the U.S.

We used OSHA’s methodology to calculate deaths per 100,000 workers for the tower industry for each year from 2003 to 2010. We found an average fatality rate of 123.6 per 100,000 workers for the tower industry during this period. Over the same time span, government data shows the fatality rate in the construction industry was 10.7 per 100,000 workers. The average annual fatality rate for the tower industry was more than 10 times greater than that of the construction industry.

Deaths per 100,000 workers
Year Tower deaths Towers Construction
2011 7 81 N/A
2010 7 81 10
2009 5 58 10
2008 12 138 10
2007 11 127 11
2006 19 219 11
2005 7 81 11
2004 10 115 12
2003 15 173 12

 

Average Death Rate per 100,000 Workers, from 2003-10

Tower industry 123.6
Construction industry 10.7

 

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