Science

This amazing video, from OLE (The OnLine Engineering) site, has been making the viral rounds this week. It shows a technician with a head-mounted camera climbing a 1768′ tall guided transmission tower. OK, so he takes an elevator most of the way, but those last few hundred feet are almost hard to watch. Terrifying and fascinating/informative at the same time. [Thanks, Thomas Michael Corcoran!]

The OnLine Engineer

42 thoughts on “Climbing up a 1700 foot antenna tower

  1. Contrary to the video’s claims, OSHA does *not* allow free climbing, even when transitioning from one support to another. It’s done because of time (and thus profit) concerns, but it is most certainly not allowed. This guy should be fired for several things in this video. Heck, when he *does* choose to clip on, you see him hanging his gorilla hook on an open-ended step bolt. As my father (who has been climbing a long time) said: “this video will probably live a long time, as a teaching aid at climbers and erectors training workshops – how many ways can this guy die?”

    The fellow who posted this video (for a friend) has pulled it down because the friend asked him to: http://www.theonlineengineer.org/TheOLEBLOG/ I’ll let you ponder exactly *why* he feels he’s going to get into hot water with his employers.

  2. That video was pretty awesome to watch but I wholly agree with @interop, that guy is going to die soon, there’s now way using that little safety gear to climb that high is even vaguely safe. I do wish they woulda base jumped off the top though, just to make it extra hard core.

  3. I don’t know how much a parachute would add to the workout of climbing that way, but I personally wouldn’t want to do this kind of thing without one; and a paper airplane, of course.

  4. SAFETY GEAR? Like harness clips that can’t be undone with one hand because of shitty-ass design. So with those things you have both hands on the clip you need to remove in order to ascend AND the clip holding you to the tower is tightly clutched with both hands? Oh yeah, that’s real smart. NOT SAFE, NOT SMART, but OSHA APPROVED.

    Climbing up is easy and pretty damned fool proof, without safety gear. Something instinctive (barring extinctive stupidity) keeps you from making bad climbing decisions. Call it the desire to live another f*ing day.

    I’ve climbed towers with the requisite straps and without. I’ve climbed up 900ft towers without gear or elevators and with the full support of my then employer. (No, I will not say who they are.) I had no issues with it. It was a hell of a lot easier without the extra gear, it took a lot less time, fewer things to carry, fewer steps to worry about (“oh s**t now I have to go down 6ft to unclip that thing I forgot about.”) Additionally, I got paid more because I was willing to free climb. I freeclimbed before I was paid more to do it, btw.

    Here’s the deal: people that freeclimb take their lives into their own hands, and they’re okay with that. They’re okay with it because the only way they’re going to fall is because of a STUPID mistake that they won’t make while young and in good health. It’s no different with any other profession where stupid mistakes can kill you.

    That said. Going back down is freaking hair raising. Climbing down is dreadful. It is much easier to go up than down. Strong arms and hands make this pretty safe as well.

    Safety people always forget about the number one safety device known to mankind: the human brain. People KNOW when they’re about to do something unsafe, they KNOW how to minimize risk instinctively, they KNOW how to live another day. Putting extra hardware in the way of this leads to stupid moves that cause accidents.

  5. Gareth, thanks for the shout out. I saw this video and felt fear. I am afraid of heights, and it is hard for me to see how someone who is not afraid of heights could not be afraid of this!

  6. As a member of that small fraternity of iron workers known as tower climbers I am offended by the first posting of: introp and infiniteworld. This is a case of someone who’s never done tower climbing trying to tell those of us that actually do it for a living how we are “supposed” to do it. what a joke. Until you have actual experience climbing steel, then please keep your opinions to yourself.

    The rule in tower climbing is that you clip in when YOU feel you need it.

  7. Jeremiah/Sailorbob – safety gear isn’t just for when your are in control of the situation, its also for when you aren’t, for when you can’t be. All the judgement and experience in the world may not help when Murphy intervenes. We had a saying when I worked with riggers: “There old riggers and there are bold riggers, but there aren’t any old, bold riggers”. Experience is hard to get without making *some* mistakes and in this kind of game, mistakes can be very costly.

    That said, I agree that poorly designed safety gear is often more of a hazard than no gear at all.

  8. You make the false assumption that I’ve never climbed. Here’s the neat thing about safety equipment: the people needing it routinely over-estimate their own ability and under-estimate the risk. It’s a basic rule of human psychology.

    Everyone on the rig was a perfect climber and would never make a mistake. Until they did. Or a mistake happened to them. Ever had a step bolt fail because it was mis-installed? Yeah, that wasn’t your mistake, it was the guy who replaced it. But guess what, though? You’ll end up with the huge insurance claims, on disability, or leaving behind a family on social security. All of those results impact me, my business, my industry, and the whole public’s pocketbook.

    The mentality on the rig (and, presumably, tower) that safety is for wimps is why we end up with disasters. Look at any industrial accident headline and trace backwards: the majority of the time you’ll find guys who treated safety like a minor concern or who believed they were too good to make mistakes.

    Use your safety gear, please. It isn’t just you who’ll be paying for the mistakes.

  9. If you did your homework you will find that tower climber accidents are for the most part failures of the tower and all of the safety equipment won’t help you. All (that’s 100%) of the climbers I’ve worked with over the years have respect for the work environment. for you to make the general statements above such as, “the majority of the time you’ll find guys who treated safety like a minor concern or who believed they were too good to make mistakes.” is wrong and insulting to those of us in the field.

    If you are concentrating on placing and removing your safety equipment, then you cannot be concentrating on your climbing, you will expend additional energy to do so tiring yourself out faster.

    No one is saying to not use safety equipment. Just use it in the manner that best suites the conditions and the climber.

    Statisticly more people are killed in the bathroom than climbing towers. Where’s your safety equipment there?

  10. I have done my homework and, no, most tower climber accidents are not a result of tower failures. That’s what *precipitates* them. They are the result of failure to follow safe procedures, allowing a small mechanical failure to result in death or injury. Go scour the OSHA incident reports for any given year. You’ll discover that almost every death would have been prevented had everyone followed the basic rules. The cost of safety is not zero, yes. It costs energy and time. My earlier post is that the long-term costs of being unsafe are quite high.

    My statement about the attitude of those in the field isn’t wrong, though maybe it should be insulting. I worked in the field and *I* was insulted! Pick any of the climber deaths from any year and read the incident reports. How many of them include some gross negligence somewhere in there? The ones off the top of my head:
    * John Regan? Clipped onto a non-structural pipe. He fell to his death and his (unused) fall-arrest lanyard was still clipped on his belt when they found his body.
    * Stephan Ballasch? Told his supervisor he shouldn’t climb because he didn’t have his safety equipment; supervisor gave him someone else’s from a truck and told him to get to work. He fell during a transition. It turns out his (borrowed) snaphook failed; the investigation showed the snaphook was damaged before the accident but not removed from service.
    * Jonathan Guilford? Was using a broken hook with no gate (keeper). It wasn’t removed from service. Post-accident investigation found several such broken hooks available in the trailer.

    But bathrooms? You’re confusing quantity with rate. Let’s look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data for the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. in 2009, in terms of deaths per 100k (equivalent) employees:
    * fishing and related: 200
    * fishing, hunting, trapping: 139.8
    * logging workers: 61.8
    * aircraft pilots and flight engineers: 57.1
    * misc. extraction: 51.9
    * famers and ranchers: 38.5
    * roofers: 34.7
    * structural iron and steel: 30.3

    In 2004, the rate for tower workers was somewhere around 100. In 2005, it was about 80. (OSHA doesn’t track tower workers as a specific category / SIC, so you have to do some work to get the total number of workers. See OSHA’s Vermillion work for more.) The base rate for accidental deaths in the U.S. hovers around 35 per 100k. That’s car accidents, falls by the elderly, accidental overdoses, you name it.

    Tower work is goddamned dangerous. There’s no reason to make it any more dangerous than it has to be. Safety takes a little time, a little energy, and a little money. Not being safe results in a lot of widows, insurance payments, and heartache.

  11. You sort of made my argument: ….. The ones off the top of my head:
    * John Regan? Clipped onto a non-structural pipe. Safety equipment didn’t make the difference.
    * Stephan Ballasch? Never inspected his safety equipment
    * Jonathan Guilford? Never inspected his safety equipment

    What if they “free climbed and hadn’t trusted their “safety equipment”

    None of my fellow climbers would ever share/trade/borrow/lend or use equipment that wasn’t theirs. Would you?

    And you’re right, OSHA does not track tower climbers. But our industry is relatively small and I do keep my eye out for all information within our community. If you dug deeper you would find it’s the iron workers that are putting up those statistics, hence the increased OSHA oversight on multistory construction jobs.

    So we’re never going to agree on this. Climb as you want. I have thousands of vertical feet without an incident on any of my crews. Our rule is once on the tower you are responsible for yourself and no-one on the ground “tells” you anything.

  12. *sigh* You’re moving the goalposts. You comment that it is tower failures that kill, to which I responded that it was failure to follow safety procedures that leads to deaths.

    John Regan didn’t use his fall arrest lanyard and didn’t follow procedure on *what* to clip on to. Had he, he very likely would have survived.

    Ballasch and Guilford was killed because he, his employer, and co-workers did not follow safety procedures and both perform pre-climb inspections of gear and destroy gear which is known defective. Had they, they very likely would have survived.

    So to go back to the point you made which I addressed: following safety procedures saves lives. If you pick and choose which to follow (inspecting your gear is okay, but double-lanyard work is not, etc.) then the results, as shown above, are predictable.

    Apparently you’re unfamiliar with John Regan’s death: he *was* free-climbing, but clipped onto that antenna pipe when he paused to take a break. One slip later and he’s dead. All three of these guys were, essentially, free-climbing. When they made a mistake, they had only a free-climber’s safety equipment to save them, which is to say: none.

    OSHA doesn’t track tower climbers, but people within OSHA have gone through stacks of form 200s/300s to post-mortem categorize them. (Again, see Vermillion’s great work on this. I have no idea how many hours that poor fellow had to put into going through the data.) So, no, it isn’t the high steel guys inflating the statistics: their numbers are actually *lower* than ours!

  13. Yep. Their numbers agree with the rates from OSHA. In 2006, there were ~8700 professional tower climbers in the industry. 18 deaths in 8700 is 206 per 100k. Using the same employment figures for 2009 still 57 per 100k. (The number of climbers have declined somewhat since 2006 due to the cuts in telecom spending, etc., so the real figure would be somewhat worse than that.) Abysmal compared to high steel guys who run, for comparison, between 25 and 35 per 100k, depending on the year.

  14. Got to love the way OSHA looks at things. According to your numbers against the “Lifetime Odds of Death for Selective Causes, United States, 2006” the odds of you dying from a tower are 8700/18 or 1:483 tower climbers. Compare that to:
    Car Occupant 1 in 272
    Assault with firearm 1 in 300
    If I used your logic then this year the odds of a tower climber dying is 8700/7 or 1 in 1242.
    Pedestrian 1 in 623
    Motorcycle Rider 1 in 802
    Accidental Drowning 1 in 1073
    Exposure to smoke, fire and flames 1 in 1235
    And if you take into consideration that three of the seven that we know are not worker related but from an external source, then the ratio becomes 1 in 2175.
    Your statement that, “(The number of climbers have declined somewhat since 2006 due to the cuts in telecom spending, etc., so the real figure would be somewhat worse than that.) “ is erroneous. In fact, due to the digital/3G/Cell tower business bloom the number of climbers has skyrocketed. According to Cellular Communications Industry Association the number of cellular sites including buildings and other structures in addition to towers went from 22,663 in 1995 to 242, 130 in 2008.
    One has only to look around at the use of cellular/3G devices and the map coverage ads used to understand that the projected growth for 2010 is going to be over 350,000 sites. Granted not all of these are towers but there is no decline, that’s for sure.
    What does this mean: I’ll let the statistics speak for themselves.
    This whole viral growth has all started with a dramatic 140’ climb on top of a 1600’ tower video. From it more people than ever learned about the dramatic and exhilarating business I’ve been privileged to be a part of. I hope the climber is never made public and goes on to have a long and successful career without the stigma associated with this video. Personal safety is between your ears, not within the walls of some government agency.
    As we say before we climb: You are safer on a tower than you are in your car.

    1. Sailorbob has his odds a bit confused.

      The odds presented are lifetime – calculated over about a 76 year period of time. So, in 76 years the odds of getting killed as a pedestrian is 623. The annual odds would be about 1 in 46,000.

      So, if the yearly death for tower climbers is 1 in 483, it is far more likely that we will see a death from falling in this group then their death by anything else – including falls in the bathroom and driving a car or getting shot.

      Check out column two (one year odds) at http://danger.mongabay.com/injury_odds.htm

      Now….your odds increase or decrease based on participation, so a tower climber that free climbs puts himself in that position so that he can fall.

      By crossing in a signaled crosswalk in daylight my odds of pedestrian death decrease. While walking home drunk at 2:00 a.m., they increase (check out “Superfreakanomics” for a discussion on that!)

      When you free climb you increase your odds of death or injury should you slip or a handhold break. 100% fall protection would never increase the odds of death or injury even if fatigue was factored in. Equipment failure excluded – but that’s not 100% fall protection.

      And here’s the fact on OSHA and free climbing an antenna:

      The 29 CFR 1910.268 Telecomunications proposed rule “would not apply to [work] covered by Sec. 1910.268(n)(7) or (n)(8). These two industry-specific standards generally permit employees to free climb to work locations on poles,
      towers, and similar structures without the use of fall protection equipment. These standards protect employees by requiring adequate training in climbing [by] ensuring that employees are proficient in safe climbing techniques.”

      What is required is “three points of contact with the ladder when ascending or descending. (Please note this requirement only addresses the act of moving up or down a ladder, not working from a ladder.)

      http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=FEDERAL_REGISTER&p_id=21518

  15. i guess thats why so many tower climbers die. They are accidents because you were not trying fall.

    btw, if you can’t open one of those lanyard hooks with one hand, then you probably shouldnt be using the equipment because you don’t seem to know how

  16. btw, did anyone notice when he got to the top of the ladder, at the base of the pole, he decided to climb outside the tower, awkwardly onto the base….RATHER than continue up the ladder, which comes up safely to the rungs on the pole??

    showoff

    i currently work with a few people who would be dead if not for wearing harnesses when they DIDNT want to.

  17. You’re all wasting time and energy posting on this if you wanna free climb then do it.. if you wanna use safety stuff then do so.. its just personal preference really.. I don’t prefer safety equipment it slows you down and makes you constantly re-hook and find something reliable to re-hook to.. which takes your mind off of your climb that’s how accidents happen not being mentally and physically aware of what’s going on.. attention to detail.. it keeps you alive overseas and back home..

  18. my grandson just started a few months ago doing tower climbing, highest up is 700 feet. I tell him the the company pays him to be safe, they sure don’t want to pay higher insurance for their workers.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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