Drones reduce risk for tower climbers by 30%

Author: Ryan Bliss
Date of Publication: April 14, 2020

Telecommunications companies have been expanding their networks at a record pace, even more so with the deployment of the 5G network in 2019.  This rapid expansion requires constant maintenance and upgrading of cell towers.  There are 10,000 tower climbers in the U.S., and they have been busier than ever during the last two decades.  Unfortunately, tower climbing has a death rate 10 times that of construction.  There have been 152 tower structure related fatalities in the U.S. since 2003.  At a conference in 2008, OSHA’s top administrator, Edwin Foulke, called tower climbing “the most dangerous job in America.” In this post we will discuss the dangers associated with climbing towers and how we can reduce risk for tower climbers.

One example of the extreme dangers associated with tower climbing occurred on June 15, 2013 in Allentown, PA.  On this date 23-year-old Thomas Jeglum suffered a fall from 50 feet because one of ladder rungs up the tower broke during his climb.  Mr. Jeglum was left in a coma for months with multiple injuries, including a permanent traumatic brain injury and numerous fractures to his pelvis, spine, arm and legs.  This injury resulted in a $30M settlement for Mr. Jeglum and his family so he can receive the daily care that he will need for the rest of his life.

In a 2014 letter to the communication tower industry, Assistant Secretary for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, wrote “For the sake of your employees and your business, I strongly urge you to do everything you can to prevent these needless injuries and deaths before anyone else is hurt, and before OSHA issues additional financial penalties.”

While the risks associated with climbing towers can never be completely eliminated, drones can be used to significantly reduce the risk to climbers. Drones can be used to perform a pre-climb assessment to (1) identify climbing hazards such as bees, birds and structural damage/degradation before the climb takes place, and (2) to determine the types of tools that will be required for the climb. This will reduce the amount of time that the climber is on the tower, reduce climber fatigue, reduce inspection time, reduce overall risk and improve operational efficiency. The National Association of Tower Erectors claims that “Drones can eliminate up to 30% of climbs.”

AT&T is the world’s largest telecommunications company with over 65,000 cell sites. In 2016 AT&T created a UAS Program to reduce risk for tower climbers. AT&T says that “Drones can increase workplace safety by reducing the need to climb towers, poles, and other structures while performing the work that is necessary to keep consumers connected.” Art Pregler, UAS Program Director at AT&T, says “Every time that we fly a drone instead of sending a tower crew up a tower, we remove an instance or a possibility for an injury.”

Stay up to date on ways to reduce risk and improve operational efficiency for towered structures by visiting our blog on a regular basis. Please contact Infrared Aerial at 603.521.4736 or ryan@infraredaerial.com to discuss how we can implement an aerial thermography inspection plan to meet your needs.  New customers will receive a 20% discount on their first inspection.