CYBERSPACE: (A new video link follows the story.) A seven-minute video of
free-climbing tower technicians has the broadcast engineering community abuzz. Entitled
“Stairway to Heaven,” it’s meant to illustrate a workday in the life of a tower
technician equipped with a helmetcam. Instead, what generated the most
attention was the fact that the shooter was free climbing.
“It starts with an elevator ride to about 1,600 feet. After that, it’s all
about climbing,” the narrator intones while the technician ascends a ladder within
the structure. “Once you reach the top of the tower, it’s time to go outside.”
At that point, the technician is shown climbing hand-over-hand up the side of
the antenna on small metal rods.
“This is called free climbing, meaning no safety lines are used,” the narrator
says. “It’s easier, faster, and most tower workers climb this way…. Free
climbing is dangerous, of course, but OSHA rules do allow for it. Attaching,
climbing, attaching and removing safety lines every few feet slows progress and
The climber eventually secures safety lines near the top of the tower.
The video originated on
TheOnlineEngineer.org, a new
Web site aimed at the community created by Russell Brown. It was soon viral on
YouTube, according to Wireless
Estimator, which focuses on tower news, information and safety. Jim
Coleman, chairman of the National
Association of Tower Erectors, told WE
he was “unaware of any guidance by OSHA that allows for free climbing as an
acceptable method of accessing elevated work.”
Brown removed the video from
and YouTube, but it’s available elsewhere. Neither the climbers nor the tower
“The footage of the climb came from a friend of mine that does this type of
work, I have know him for several years and he has helped me many times in the
past,” Brown wrote at
“Recently he gave me this video he shot on one of his jobs. I showed him the
edited video and he approved it, but not the audio, as it was added later, and
I put it up on TheOnLineEngineer and
YouTube over the weekend. On Monday, he was getting calls from colleagues
telling him that they were concerned about what the video showed. His world is
a very small one, and you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you! Some
facility owners are concerned about liability and such and may second thoughts
about him if they think he does not take safety seriously.”
Brown said he’d had two offers to broadcast the video and a request to submit
it to a film festival in France.
“As soon as we can, we will have more videos about tower climbing, but in a
totally safe way, being tied off all the time,” he said.
While most tower workers may indeed free climb, as the video asserts,
Wireless Estimator makes no bones about
the danger. Beneath a shot of a technician climbing untethered in upstate New York,
WE writes, “Smile for the camera
since you will not be able to for your morgue photo.” The photo was taken by a
retired technician who was “concerned about the number of people that do not
tie off.” WE also features a “Tower
Climbers Hall of Shame” featuring video of free climbers.
reports seven fatalities related
to falls from towers so far this year, compared to five for all of last year--the
fewest since 2003. That year, 13 people died while working on communications
towers, three of them in Huntsville, Ala. Mohammad Ayub of OSHA said at the
time that shortcuts often led to fatalities. (See “Towers
The highest number of fatalities occurred in 2006, when 18 people died in tower
incidents. Among them were Leo Deters, a 57-year-old industry veteran from
Norwalk, Iowa. Deters and two crew members, 27-year-old Jason Galles of Des Moines and
19-year-old Jon McWilliams of Cumming, Iowa, died while riding a headache ball
up a 1,500-foot tower.
“I know he’s been on every tower we have,” said Bill Hayes of Iowa Public
Television of Deters soon after the incident. “He’s probably been on every
tower in Iowa and the surrounding states. These guys are tremendously safe.
This is not a cowboy operation. These guys are good... inherently, it’s a
dangerous job because if you make a mistake, there aren’t any small ones. Leo
didn’t take any unnecessary risks or do anything unsafe.”
The video of the helmetcam-captured free climb is below. The embedded video was removed per a DCMA takedown request from Brown. A version is now available at Live
-- Deborah D.