Looking at all the work that is coming up in 2019 through 2022, will the tower workers be protected? You may be asking, protected from what? I would say from the horrible scheduling that they had to deal with in the past. Couple that with work ramping up which adds inexperienced climbers that need better training. The shortage of workers out there. From the carriers that pushed the GCs so hard knowing that they were untouchable. Even tower owners rarely get in trouble; it’s a problem that compounds.
The carriers have done a lot to make sure they were untouchable with the layers of GCs between them and the climber. So many layers, but the climber is working off the documentation and direction of the carrier, no one else. The FCC and OSHA know this, and due to recent changes, carriers may not be protected like they once were. With the AT&T lawsuit, https://wade4wireless.com/2018/06/04/what-the-att-30m-payout-to-an-injured-climber-means-to-future-work/ maybe lawyers will look to suing carriers more. While there were more circumstances in the lawsuit than just the carrier, the new standard is set. While not many lawyers will go up against a carrier unless they think they can win, it opens a door. However, tower ownership matters. Will the tower owners become more involved in making tower safer? That lawsuit was specifically about the tower. It could have been any tower owner.
Ah yes, the tower owners who rely on contractors to let them know if the tower is safe or not. Again, it is a clean way for them to pass the responsibility onto the tower. I know they say they want every tower to be as safe as possible, but more safety comes at a price. A price that most should think long and hard before paying, after all, what is a person’s life worth?
The carriers joining NATE shows that they acknowledge that there is a problem, that’s good news. They were quick to get involved in the rule making for training climbers. Yet, they don’t employ many climbers, if any, do they? Although, they are responsible for (I’m guessing) 85% (or more) of the work out there. You see, the way I see it when they joined NATE, they were quick to help any way they could to prevent future accidents. While the one thing that I saw prevented accidents was the downturn of work. It’s not that the work is no longer there, it’s that the schedules are not crazy. They are not pounding climbers into the ground. A key factor in fewer accidents is a realistic schedule and a trained workforce.
Carriers hire the GCs or OEMs that hires the climbers. The GCs and OEMs are full of PMs that work with the field crews. They are the ones that bear the burden of the project succeeding or failing.
The PMs are the ones that not only deal with all the problems in the field coming back from the climbers complaining but the changes in schedule and sites from the carrier. They hear crap from both ends, a task that takes its toll on their time, energy, and good spirits.
Will this all change in 2019 and 2020 and Massive MIMO and 5G rollout? What about the growth of fixed wireless? Will these upgrades start to strain the industry again? Was the last downturn enough to get the less than reputable companies out of business? I guess we will see in 2019, won’t we?
I have heard how the tower climbing workforce will be at full capacity in 2019. So much so that the prices of crews will go higher and higher. Maybe they can cash in for the next 2 years. That’s if T-Mobile and Sprint roll out the way they say they’re going to. Also, AT&T must commit to building the FirstNet system the way they promised to.
I remain skeptical. Promises were made to be broken. We may not see all the work hit at once, but then again, maybe we will. I don’t mean to be wishy-washy, but we should face facts that there are a lot of factors holding them back. Many things, if not all, are out of the climber’s control.
What could hold back production? I am glad you asked, let me count the ways.
- OEM delays that happen.
- The 5G NR format being finalized by 3GPP.
- Site acquisition delays.
- Tower upgrades are taking longer than normal.
- Tower owners are asking for too much money for upgrades.
- Permitting and zoning issues. Let’s face it; municipalities are not happy with the way that carriers have steamrolled them by changing small cell laws at a state level.
- Lack of training for new equipment installation.
- Equipment delays, cable delays, antenna delays.
- I am sure there a dozen more.
This is what the reality is. Not that things may go perfectly, and all climbers can make over $100K for the next 2 to 3 years, but to be honest, I don’t see that happening. As usual, the GCs will make the most money.
To sum it up here’s what matters from my perspective.
- Properly trained workers. (TIRAP, certified, experience)
- Responsible workers.
- Healthy workers. Physically and mentally.
- Having the best safety gear and tools possible.
- Realistic schedules, not insanity that puts the climbers at risk from exhaustion, being rushed.
- Avoid careless mistakes by overlooking a site walk or survey.
- Respect the tower, rooftop, or job site, each one.
- GCs that do the due diligence prior to the onsite work.
- Proper safety inspections, before, during, and possibly after the work.
- Safety audits on working tower crews.
- Following OSHA guidelines.
- Respect for everyone involved. This means respecting the climber and listen to their problems but that goes both ways, they need to listen to the safety teams, the project managers, and the carriers. In this case, it should swing both ways. All sides need to listen.
- Lessons learned, safety talks, corrections as needed.
- Proper documentation.
- The reputation of the tower crew/company. Accidents happen, but how many and why?
By the way:
- PM – Project Manager
- OEM – Original Equipment Manufacturers like Ericsson, Nokia, or Samsung
- GC – General Contractor like Black and Veatch or SAC Wireless
Hope this helps.
Hey, tell me what you think, message me on Facebook, LinkedIn, or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an opinion.
Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!
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The foundations below do beautiful work, helping families in their time of need. Climbers often get seriously injured or die on the job. The foundations below support those families in their time of greatest need!
Hubble Foundation helps the families of climbers in a time of need and beyond with financial support and counseling!
Tower Family Foundation supports the families of tower climbers at the time of crisis when a climber falls with financial assistance and more.