Promise to focus on contractor oversight could affect employers in many industries

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has warned companies involved in the telecommunications tower industry that OSHA sees “an alarming increase in worker deaths” in the industry and will step up its enforcement efforts. All companies involved in tower construction, maintenance, leasing, and operation, therefore, should prepare for more frequent and more intense OSHA inspections. The warning from Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels says the agency will pay particular attention to training and fall protection issues and will focus on possible hazards from falling objects, equipment failure, and collapsing towers.

This latest initiative may have far-reaching impact within and beyond the telecommunications industry. The agency says it will “pay[] particular attention to contract oversight issues, and will obtain contracts in order to identify not only the company performing work on the tower, but the tower owner, carrier, and other responsible parties in the contracting chain.” Such “contractor oversight” may mean the agency will extend its policy of citing multiple companies connected to a worksite. Under the “multi-employer worksite doctrine,” OSHA issues citations to employers who create a hazard, are responsible for safety and health at the work site (in practice or by contract), or are responsible for correcting hazards. The agency’s mention of “contract oversight” in its warning may signal that OSHA intends to extend its enforcement powers to citing companies for failing to oversee contractors.

Tower companies, carriers, and others in the telecommunications and tower industries should ensure safety and compliance in their practices and prepare to handle OSHA inspections.