Antenna installation and tower construction

Stations should leave the design and installation of the tower to the manufacturer.

Recent events have convinced me that certain areas of antenna installation and tower construction need to be revisited. In particular, there are steps that station personnel should take when antenna or transmission line work is done or when towers are being constructed or modified.

If all goes well, most of these steps will prove unnecessary. But, if there is a problem, the station's staff will need to revisit these steps to make sure nothing was missed.

The planning stage

First, determine what needs to be done as opposed to how it should be done. Figure out what the load criteria is for a tower, what the limits are on the guy radius, what the soil conditions are (if known), what antennas and lines need to be installed, etc. In other words, determine what the final project needs to include and what standards will apply.

South Tower companies should provide a certificate of insurance for liability coverage. Photos courtesy Dielectric.

As a minimum for a new structure, the current version of ANSI/EIA/TIA 222 should be met, along with any additional strengthening for ice or unusual conditions. Once those criteria have been determined, preferably in cooperation with the station's consulting engineer, a full set of specifications should be prepared. That applies whether or not any bidding is involved.

The specifications and the contract clarify what all parties involved will do and how they should interact with each other. There are several points that need to be seriously considered to reduce each party's liabilities, especially those of the station and engineer.

Detailed specifications and a written contract

First, never omit the requirement for detailed specifications and a written contract. Stations often work off of a simple proposal from the tower company because they've worked with the rigger for years and think he is a good old boy who would never do anything wrong. Don't make this mistake!

The liability insurance for a large tower project can be around $10 million.

If something does goes wrong, the tower company may not have a choice in how the situation is handled. Often, the insurance companies involved will try to subjugate their damages. That means the insurance companies can sue parties in the name of the insured to recover their losses.

In addition, that rigger who has always been a good old boy may disappear like the morning fog if something really goes wrong. That is why everyone's liability needs to be nailed down by contract before any work is done.

The detailed specifications are good for all parties. In my experience, dependable tower companies are in favor of tight specifications. The specifications protect the tower company by identifying the conditions that the company must meet.

Leave the design to the experts

In identifying the project goals, the station must be careful not to get involved in the actual design. For example, if the station states that the tower face must be 8ft, it now is involved in the design. If the tower comes down like a gut shot cat, the manufacturer can claim that the face requirement was a limitation placed on the design by the station.

The station needs to state what the goal of the project is and then stay out of the design and the installation. If the station determines that there is something wrong with either the material or the installation services, it can stop work under the terms of the contract until the issues are resolved.

It is highly recommended that no work be done nor should any tower materials be accepted on-site until the station receives a complete set of design calculations and material specifications signed by a registered structural engineer, licensed in the state where the project takes place. The statement should attest that the project meets all necessary standards, both national and local. A copy of that statement should be provided to the station's insurance carrier immediately. Written notification of acceptance for insurance purposes should be obtained from the insurance carrier before any work commences.


On the subject of insurance, stations should demand that the tower company provide a certificate of insurance for a reasonable amount of liability coverage. That insurance should also cover all vehicles that are owned or rented by the tower company.

In today's climate, the liability insurance should be at least $5 million. If it's a large project, that liability amount jumps to $10 million.

In addition to the certificate, insist that the station and the station's consultants (broadcast or structural) be coinsured on the tower company's policy. That policy addition doesn't cost much (usually it is free) and reduces the arguments in the case of problems.

Before you decide that your project is too small to go through all these steps, consider this: A fall from a 60ft STL tower will probably be fatal. The liability and the size of the claims for damages are going to be just as large as if the accident had occurred from a 2000ft structure.

Detailed specifications and contracts are needed for small jobs, because if there is an accident with significant injuries or deaths, everyone within shotgun range of the project will probably be sued. The station may get out clean, but that will depend on how carefully it has been protected by the contracts.

Regulatory agencies

Dealing with regulatory agencies is another significant problem. If the station engineer thinks OSHA is a small town in Wisconsin, you are already in trouble.

The new ANSI 222 standard specifies that the project owner is responsible for dealing with OSHA. I highly recommend that you ignore this. Remember, the standard is a recommendation as opposed to an absolute law that you must meet.

The specifications should include that the tower company is responsible for meeting all OSHA requirements. The tower company is, or should be, much more familiar with those requirements than the station staff.

In any case, make sure that the tower company holds regular safety meetings with its staff. The company should identify all hazards on the project and post a listing of those hazards. There should be posted listings of all emergency numbers as well as procedures to be followed in the case of an accident or fire. Everyone in the tower crew should sign all the listings to demonstrate that they have read the material. The tower company should record the training program for its entire staff, and that information should be available for inspection by both the station and OSHA.

In conclusion

There are a number of items to cover in the specifications for a tower or antenna installation project. Obviously, these will seem like overkill to many stations, especially for small projects. However, remember that the damages resulting from an accident depend on the size of the accident, not the size of the tower.

As you consider the preparation of a detailed contract, ask yourself one basic question: Would you rather spend time preparing a thorough document or facing the front office suits as you try to explain why they are out a few million dollars?

The chief engineer doesn't need to do all this by himself; in fact, he probably shouldn't try. The legal counsel for the station should be involved along with its insurance carrier and consulting engineer. Get the experts involved before any trouble occurs. It certainly makes things a lot simpler.

Don Markley is president of D.L. Markley and Associates.

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