NATE steps up tower-safety efforts
The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) announced two initiatives today at its annual conference, being held this year in Oklahoma City. The first expands on the site hazard recognition guide introduced last year by listing the top 10 hazards identified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The second is the introduction of the association’s STAR (safety, training, accountability and reliability) Initiative, which is designed to get tower owners and operators, as well as those who work at tower sites, to adhere to established best practices.
According Patrick Howey, NATE’s executive director, having a better idea of what OSHA has on its radar screen is a good thing for tower owners and operators. “This is especially true now that OSHA is placing a much greater emphasis on enforcement procedures,” Howey said. “We really want to make sure that our members are aware of what OSHA is finding out there.”
Hazards that are covered in the guide include the failure to wear appropriate fall-protection gear, electrocution hazards and the failure to follow established practices when hoisting personnel up the tower. Howey said that while the OSHA list doesn’t contain any surprises — and isn’t meant to scare anybody — it is information that should be heeded because safety remains a significant issue in the tower industry.
“They’re items that [the industry] should be aware of — by now everyone should know that you have to be tied off when you work on towers — but unfortunately we continue to read stories about people falling to their deaths,” Howey said. “So, we want people to know what the hazards are, we want to keep reminding them about those hazards, and we want them taking action to address them. We’re trying to create a culture of safety.”
Ideally, the guide will be used by on-site personnel who have oversight authority, in addition to the owners and operators who employ them, Howey added. “The more we educate them to recognize hazards, the better our odds are of keeping something catastrophic from happening,” he said.
The guide can be accessed free of charge at www.natehome.com. To date, nearly 900 people have accessed the guide. “That has made us pretty happy,” Howey said.
NATE has been pushing the idea of always having “qualified contractors,” working at a tower site, people who are well educated and well trained. “If we can get qualified contractors on site, it does make a difference,” Howey said.
Though safety still continues to be a work in progress, the situation has improved dramatically from where it was a couple of decades ago, Howey said.
“Twenty years ago, people were on towers without safety harnesses, nobody wore hard hats, and everybody just sort of winged it. There wasn’t much in the way of established best practices,” Howey said. “Now, we do have established best practices and standards, and we have specific equipment for the jobs that need to be done.”
Howey believes that the STAR Initiative will help NATE and the tower industry build on this progress. The initiative call for participants to pledge that they will adhere to industry best practices — for instance, ensuring that tower personnel are tied off and using approved personal protective gear all of the time — and will institute safety training programs and site safety audits. More than 80 NATE members already have taken the pledge.
Perhaps the most important pledge, according to Howey, is the one that calls for tower owners and operators to assign a supervisor at every site where work is being conducted who is capable of recognizing hazards and who has the authority to take corrective action — including shutting down the site if necessary. “That’s critical,” he said.
Howey recognizes that participating in the STAR Initiative represents a significant time and money commitment for tower owners and operators, who traditionally have been known to take shortcuts in order to maximize profits. But he believes that the investment will pay off beyond the primary goal of keeping workers safer.
“A company that is going to take the time and spend the money to operate safely is going to have the kind of attention to detail that you want when you’re dealing with a tower operation,” he said. “We think there’s a professionalism and reliability that goes along with hiring companies that are completely dedicated to operating safely. If you have someone on a tower site that won’t take the time or spend the money to make sure that his employees are safe, you have to wonder what else he isn’t doing.”
That last point might be what it takes to finally get tower owners and operators to universally do what is right regarding safety. It seems like a no-brainer that such entities would do whatever is necessary to keep their workers from falling off towers or electrocuting themselves, but as Howey pointed out, such tragedies still occur, largely because bottom-line-driven shortcuts still are being taken. “We definitely need to get companies to the point where they realize they no longer can do that,” he said.
If NATE can somehow convince these companies that they actually can improve their profitability by investing in safety, the problem could well disappear. It’s a tall order. In the meantime, NATE should be applauded for not only keeping the issue of tower safety in the spotlight, but also for doing something tangible to address it.
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