UPDATE: OSHA Fines for Tower Collapse that Killed 2 Climbers

Remember the tower collapse on March 25th of this year, 2014? Let me refresh your memory, Tower climbers Martin Powers, 38, and Seth Garner, 25, both died that day. I wrote about it here. May they rest in peace. Both workers fell 250’ that day in near Blaine, Ka. Now, before you go on, take a moment and bow your head, calm down, say a quiet prayer for them before you go on. OK, I feel better? Learn from this and don’t follow the mistakes that were made. OSHA did a good job turning this around from what I can tell. I think I got this right so make sure you look at the links to see the OSHA documentation. Special thanks to Wally Reardon for pointing this out on Facebook!


This shows that there were 2 Citations broken out into several items. That citation is here. What were they for? Well, OSHA dished out fines of:

  • $5,600 for not having the proper markings on or around the gin pole with instructions and load rating. It did not have the proper markings, no labels, no instructions. Not a safe work environment.
  • $5,600 for NOT having a written rigging plan based on scope of proposed demolition (Scope of Work and written plan people!) No written plan for the gin pole. Not a safe work environment.
  • $5,600 for failing to do an engineering survey prior to the work by a competent person, and who was the competent person here? Not a safe work environment.
  • $5,600 for not identifying the load rating of the gin pole for the demolition of the tower. The load chart must be readily available! Not a safe work environment.
  • $56,000 for a willful violation of failing to protect employees by having a wire rope sling attaching the gin pole to the tower without an inspection of the wire rope slings in use… (That is a huge NO-NO). Yes, $56,000.00 fine for doing that. A competent person should have inspected the wire sling prior to use. The slings were defective and should have been removed from service.
  • $56,000 for not having the slings padded from sharp edges.Willful violation!

Total penalties will be $134,400 for serious and willful violations! OSHA severe violator enforcement program is here. An article covering this by EHS is here. Remember that this company is a repeat offender.

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Do you think they will contest the fines? Probably, most companies do and most companies get it reduced. Usually for claiming the climbers didn’t do their job or they didn’t follow a policy. Sometimes they just ask for a reduction and get it and other times they blame someone else. In all honesty, I don’t know how they will get out of this because people died and it’s not their first offense, so who knows what will happen. I don’t know who was really at fault here, I wasn’t there. All I know is that 2 climbers died, both younger than me, both deserved to live.

OK, before you pass judgment on any of the climbers or the company, I want you to stop thinking that way. We can all sit here and say what we would have done, but the reality is that none of us were there. Many people say they would climb anything for the paycheck and they prove it when one company refuses to climb and the contractor will find someone else to do the job, does this add any doubt to that line of thought? Most of us think we know everything there is to know about the business, I would bet these guys did too. These guys were experienced and seemed to know what to do. Most people think that they don’t need to look at the paperwork to verify the work that needs to be done, well if this doesn’t change your mind I don’t know what will. This is something we can all learn from. The new guidelines that OSHA and the FCC put out should be an eye opener.

So I want you to think about this differently, I want you to learn from this. OSHA laid out some very clear citations. I don’t want you to think about what you would have done but what you will do. If you can look at this and realize that you don’t know the rating of your winch/gin pole or that you don’t have a written plan on site when doing work then start. Take a moment to reflect on your work, on your job, on your crew, on your life. Learn from this and correct your mistakes. Reflect and start to plan better. It may slow you down at first but it will help in the long run. It may not only save your company a fine, but it may save a life. Try to get everyone on the same page.

Do you have the training you need? Are you in over your head? Let me ask you now, point-blank, would you admit it or would you do the job hoping to finish alive? Confidence and arrogance are 2 different things although commonly mistaken for the same thing, they definitely are different.

By the way, I only see the tower crew company getting the fine. Did OSHA look past them to the customer? I don’t’ know. Towers were owned by Union Pacific Railroad, and while I don’t know their safety record railroads usually take every precaution. Did they think that perhaps the people who hired this company to remove the tower did so because they saved money on the missing plan? Did the customer ask about the plan? I would like to see OSHA probe beyond the tower crews and investigate why the customer went with this company. I would like to see if the customer understood the risks and how they did the bidding process. Who was responsible for the demolition plan? These climbers bet their lives that the gin pole would hold! One was on top of it and the other 20 feet below it. Did they know the gin pole loading? Why didn’t they have the engineering plans? Why didn’t they see a structural report of the tower? These climbers were only with the company for 2 months and 5 months, and their equipment was in piss poor shape, why was that?

Before you all pass judgment and think you would have done better, look around at your equipment and inspect it. Learn from this, learn what not to do. Invest is good equipment, rope, safety gear, training, and anything that will make you a better worker, climber, or lifesaver. Do that, or think about a new career. Remember that it is easy to point the finger and say what you would have done but it’s harder to explain why you didn’t do it.

Are you going to improve your workplace system? Tell me how or tell me what you think.

Want to learn more about rescue then listen to Todd Horning here.

OSHA Communication Towers: https://www.osha.gov/doc/topics/communicationtower/index.html

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