NATE revises tower climber fall protection training standard
The National Association of Tower Erectors, or NATE, recently announced that it is revising its tower climber fall-protection training standards to bring them more in line with the American National Standards Institute’s Z359 standards that were released in October 2007.
NATE took this step to ensure that “there wasn’t information out there telling people two different things,” said Patrick Howey, the association’s executive director.
The effort started with NATE’s OSHA-relations committee, which compared the ANSI standards—used by OSHA as a guideline to create its safety rules—to the standards that the association had developed. The committee discovered that the ANSI standards better defined what constitutes a competent climber and rescuer, according to Howey. “We tweaked our definitions to make sure they were consistent with what ANSI is using,” he said.
However, the ANSI standards are not industry specific and exist primarily to ensure that applicable industries look at fall protection carefully and take it seriously, according to recently elected NATE Chairman Jim Coleman, owner of Pelham, Ala.-headquartered Southern Broadcast Services, which constructs and maintains towers in various sectors, including television, radio and cellular. Consequently, the ANSI standards often are not rules as much as guidelines that each industry has to adapt for its own purposes. For instance, how the tower industry looks at the use of fall-protection equipment— e.g., safety harnesses that tether the climber to the structure—is quite different than how the iron and steel industry looks at it, Coleman said.
“Iron and steel says you don’t need [fall-protection equipment] until you’re at 25 feet, because that’s the distance between floors and there’s nothing to secure to until you reach that height,” Coleman said. “That makes good sense for them, but it doesn’t for the tower industry. In our best practices we recommend six feet.”
Barricades are another area where the ANSI and NATE fall protection standards differ. In the iron and steel industry, barricades are placed six feet—the common height of a man—from the edge of a structure to keep workers from tumbling off should they fall, Coleman said, adding that such an approach doesn’t work on a tower.
“On a tower, everything is an edge,” Coleman said.
While the NATE standards attempt to cover every conceivable contingency, the reality is that every tower and every job is different. That’s why the association stresses the need for daily meetings between supervisors and climbers, a suggestion that Coleman heartily endorses.
“This often is misconstrued,” Coleman said. “This is not [solely] a safety topic. It’s a discussion of the job we’re going to do today and what safety things we need to be aware of to do that job today.”
At its annual convention last month in Nashville, the association pushed its members to commit to the practice of “100% tie-off” for any climber working at heights 6 feet and above. However, Coleman conceded that because compliance with the NATE standards and best practices is voluntary, fall protection in the tower industry will continue to be a work in progress.
“Far too often, the diligent employee who has been told that there’s a deadline and who wants to do a good job for his employer, may take a shortcut in an effort to meet that goal,” he said.
That’s why it’s imperative for tower and owner and operators to take the initiative regarding safety, Coleman said.
“The companies have to do this, because that’s who OSHA is going to hold responsible,” Coleman said. “I’m responsible for ensuring a safe workplace for my employees, whatever that might take. … The climber training standard from NATE is our very best effort to ensure that, if you use this outline to create your safety program for elevated work, every one of your employees is going to go home tonight—without injury.”