Workers Memorial Day 2010

Both Pete and I were out of the office last week; we’re happy to be back.

Today, Workers Memorial Day, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the workers who have lost their lives due to their jobs. Some die in accidents and others contract illnesses or develop disabilities because of their work and die long after they must leave their jobs.

Last weekend, our Syracuse-based partner OHCC (the Occupational Health Clinical Center) hosted a statewide conference Climbers’ Perspectives on Tower Safety. All the modern conveniences of cellphones, radio, satellite TV, the internet and more rely on a network of towers which ‘tower dogs’ maintain. According to the television program Dateline, tower dogs “scale heights of up to 2,000 feet, in all types of weather, to install, maintain, and upgrade…towers coast to coast. And according to figures cited by OSHA, these so-called tower dogs have the highest death rate per capita of any occupation in the country.” Dateline followed a group of tower dogs for four months; during that time, five climbers died within 12 days in the US. You can watch the Dateline video here.

Last December, a tower near Watkins Glen collapsed while climber Dirk Remington was working on it, killing him. Other causes of death include falls and improper use of safety equipment. Frequently, companies require very fast work which causes more accidents. In 2008, one half of all tower fatalities was linked to expansion of  AT&T.

While fatalities do make the news, falls and other injuries which result in permanent disease and disability are not reported. The damage to climbers from exposure to radiation and other emissions is as yet  not calculated.

Surprisingly, tower climbing is not well regulated in most states, including New York. Where the tower industry operates under more stringent safety guidelines, fatalities decrease. The UK has never had a fatality and Canada has not experienced a death in nine years.

OHCC is taking the lead in New York to fight for the health and safety of tower climbers. A Workers Center member will be reporting soon on the conference.

You can listen to an interview with Wally Reardon, a former tower climber working with OHCC here. The National Association of Tower Erectors, NATE, is working to ensure climber safety also.

Let us hope that next year will be a safer and healthier year for all workers.