OSHA Communicates New Instruction for Communication Tower Personnel Hoists

In 2013, the communications industry was confronted by an increasing number of fatalities involving worker falls from cell tower sites. Alarmingly, OSHA recorded fourteen fatalities, all of which were determined preventable — either a result of an employer’s failure to provide fall protection or an employee’s failure to use the equipment. In the wake of this statistic, on July 17, 2014, OSHA implemented a new directive governing all work activities on communication towers that involve the use of a hoist to lift personnel to or from their workstations.

This new directive, CPL 02-01-056, entitled “Inspection Procedures for Accessing Communication Towers by Hoist,” cancels the former CPL 02-01-36 instruction, which pertained only to new communication tower erection, as opposed to including work on pre-existing towers. The new instruction dictates that, where an employer fails to provide proper fall protection for such work, OSHA field personnel may issue citations under Section 5(a)(1) of the OSHA General Duty Clause, and 20 CFR 1926.105(a) as applied to new tower erection.

By way of background, OSHA 02-01-056 posits that the preferred method for accessing workstations on communication towers is to use fixed ladders with attached climbing devices. However, when it is anticipated that employees will be climbing the tower repeatedly and materials must be hoisted, industry practice is to hoist employees to the work level. While OSHA’s standards for cranes and derricks in construction generally apply to “power-operated equipment . . . that can hoist, lower, and horizontally move a suspended load” under 29 CFR 1926.1400(a), hoist systems currently employed during communication tower work are capable of powered raising and lowering, but are not typically capable of powered horizontal movement. Without that horizontal movement capability, the hoists were not covered under Subpart CC.

Thus, hoist systems not covered under Subpart CC, used to hoist employees for access to or departure from the work position on the tower, are covered under this new instruction. CPL 02-01-056 states that, for hoisting personnel, a personnel platform must be used as prescribed by the platform manufacturer and in compliance with 29 CFR 1926.1431(e), or a boatswain chair or harness. When hoisting personnel and materials on a communication tower while using a personnel platform, small, incidental materials and personal tools may be hoisted concurrently. However, when a boatswain chair or harness is used, personnel and materials should be hoisted separately. The instruction also elaborates on further guidance regarding communication between the hoist operator and hoisted employees, weather conditions, hoist mounting, trial hoists and inspections.

Within 60 days of the instruction’s issuance, State Plan states must notify OSHA of their intent to either adopt the new directive, or indicate whether the State has a pre-existing enforcement guideline in place.

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