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The World’s Most Dangerous Commute

Friday, January 11, 2013

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Tired of fighting traffic on your way to work?

Try free-climbing to your job. More than 1,700 feet in the air. Without safety lines.

That's the harrowing experience captured in "The scariest video you have ever watched in the name of science," posted by, which offers nuts-and-bolts video tutorials by broadcast engineer Russ Brown.

The worker free climbs, hooking into the tower only occasionally to take a break.

The video depicts a transmission tower maintenance worker scaling a 1,768-foot-high (.33 miles) vertical guided tower. The worker navigates the metal scaffolding while tethered to 30 pounds of tools.

"It's a lot like a space walk, where you have to remember to bring everything you need, because it's a long way down," the narrator explains.

No Safety Lines

The climbing is done without safety lines.

"It's easier, it's faster, and most tower workers climb this way," the narrator reports. "Free climbing is more dangerous, of course, but [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] rules do allow for it. Attaching, climbing, attaching and removing safety lines every few feet slows progress and is tiring."

Tower comparison

The worker in the video does secure himself to the tower for an occasional break.

For the last 60 feet of the journey, a climbing partner holds the worker's tool bag to keep it from swinging and knocking him off balance.

"The tricky part," the narrator notes, is getting on top of the tower, where a 55-mile view to the horizon awaits—and the job can begin.

'The Most Dangerous Job in America'
Tower climbing has come under increasing scrutiny in the last year as more of these workers have perished in catastrophic falls.
In May 2012, PBS's Frontline documented what it called "the hidden cost of the smartphone revolution" in Cell Tower Deaths.

Jay Guilford, 25, a maintenance subcontractor, was killed in a fall from a cell tower.

One month later, The Daily Kos followed up with "The Killing Towers of the US Telecom Industry," which elaborated on the toll from what a former OSHA director once called “the most dangerous job in America.”

The death rate for tower climbers is about 10 times that of construction workers, the reports say. Most climbers earn $10 or $11 an hour working for subcontractors, not directly for telecom companies.

Said one climber: “People have no idea what we go through on a day to day basis to give them that service when they hold their cell phones.”

Editor's Note: PaintSquare News asked OSHA to review the video and address whether the activity complies with the agency's standards. OSHA's response, issued Feb. 1, is available here.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Fall protection; Fatalities; Health and safety; Maintenance programs; OSHA; Transmission Towers

Comment from Brad Wilder, (1/11/2013, 2:21 PM)

This video has been making its way around the internet for a few years now. OSHA rules certainly DO NOT allow for free climbing. The video narration is incorrect, as has been discussed at length on other industry websites. See here for one example:

Comment from Mary Chollet, (2/3/2013, 3:15 PM)

Brad, we've been asking OSHA to weigh in on this video for weeks. We just received the agency's response and added it to the story. Thanks!

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (2/5/2013, 8:59 AM)

The OSHA response isn't exactly clear. Perhaps a more direct question to OSHA would be helpful, something like: "Is free climbing telecommunication towers allowed under OSHA standards?" or "What OSHA violations are seen in the linked video?" For general construction, free climbing of ladders is typically allowed. Separate comment: The "Time for a break" points look pretty dumb. There is almost nothing keeping that hook from flipping off the end of the climbing cleat if he were to slip. I see what look like sturdy galvanized steel flanges with holes within a few feet of each break point.

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