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OSHA acts to curb tower climber deaths

New federal safety regulations that were announced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in April were to begin in July. According to the new OSHA directive, employers in Minnesota and nationwide have until April 2015 to comply with the new regulations banning "free climbing" for workers, a common practice on electrical transmission towers. People working on cellphone towers have worked under a similar ban since the 1990s.

Until now, federal laws have covered other jobs that involve climbing, stipulating that harnesses or other safety equipment must be used when employees are only a few feet off the ground. Electrical workers, on the other hand, have been allowed to scale heights of up to 180 feet by free climbing up the legs of towers using step bolts before utilizing safety harnesses at the tops of towers.

On average, 74 out of approximately 110,000 electrical utility workers nationwide die annually from workplace accidents, including falls from utility towers. One electrical worker in Washington says that if these workers had some type of fall protection, some of them would not have hit the ground and would have survived. OSHA believes that about 20 lives will be saved each year through the new regulations.

Most workplace injuries are caused by simple accidents and can be resolved through workers' compensation claims. These are claims filed with employers' insurance providers and allow employees to receive any reasonable and necessary medical treatment. Under certain circumstances, injured employees can also receive a portion of wages that they have lost due to their injuries. Employers cannot legally retaliate against workers who file lawful workers' compensation claims.

Source: KUOW.org, "Feds Ban Free Climbing By Electric Utility Workers", John Ryan, July 23, 2014

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