On Friday, August 30th, a 23-year old tower technician was rescued from a cell tower by the Tulsa, Oklahoma Fire Department after suffering from a head injury due to a fallen antenna. Justin Mayfield was hit in the head with more than 200 pounds of force. If he and his crew hadn’t taken the proper safety precautions, he may not have lived to tell his story. Luckily Mayfield was wearing his helmet, which saved him from a lot of potential harm.
The team was just completing routine maintenance when the antenna fell. His co-worker Ryan Kifer was able to assist Mayfield after the accident occurred until firefighters could rescue them both. Both of the men were properly harnessed to the 100-foot tower when the antenna fell. Kifer immediately stabilized Mayfield’s’ neck and waited for the firefighters to arrive. Mayfield only suffered a mild concussion and will be climbing again in no time.
While Mayfield was lucky, some crews aren’t so diligent when it comes to following the safety precautions laid out for them. In an episode of Frontline cell tower technicians discussed the safety measures that are often skipped because of a time crunch. Martin Smith of Frontline explained that, “ Veteran climbers say that time pressure often leads to something called ‘free climbing.’”
Free climbing is when a person who is climbing a tower isn’t connected to a fall arrest system. This may seem like one of the crazier ideas anyone has ever had, but with the swift expansion of cellular networks by the major carriers workers felt pressured to complete their tasks in a timely manner. Tower technician, Ray Hull, explained on Frontline how he and a coworker had to complete a cell site in Nebraska but the equipment they needed was in Texas—20 hours away. Although they tried to get an extension for their deadline, it was denied because Nextel needed the tower to be completed. Hull and his coworker drove to Texas and back to immediately begin working on the tower.
Hull felt pressured and immediately ascended the tower to begin work, despite his lack of sleep and without the proper safety equipment. Hull ended up falling 240 feet and only lived because his safety harness broke the fall, but he suffered severe injuries and is now permanently disabled.
Even if a deadline is extremely important, it’s no more important than following safety procedures to prevent accidents from occurring. This is why the National Association of Tower Erectors has worked to educate the industry leaders on proper safety regarding tower climbing. NATE also pursues safety through its member involvement in the development of Industry Standards and NATE Standards.