An Oklahoma communication tower company was recently cited by federal safety regulators after the deaths of three West Virginians in February.
The company, S&S Communication, was a contractor on a project in Clarksburg, West Virginia to modify a cellular communications tower. These modifications included replacing diagonal bracing and installing new guy wires and leg stiffeners. Yet, on February 1, while employees were removing the diagonal bracing, the communications tower collapsed. As a result, two employees died, as well as a volunteer firefighter, and two other employees suffered injuries. The firefighter died after a second communications tower collapsed due to pressure from the first one.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited S&S for two violations of workplace safety and fined them $14,000, or $7,000 per violation. The citations were for failing to use temporary supports or braces, and for permitting employees to be tied to bracing that was incapable of supporting 5,000 pounds or more.
S&S Communication must respond to the citation within 15 days of receipt, either to comply or to contest the penalties. An attorney for S&S Communications stated that the company would meet with local officials for OSHA in order to get more information about the citations.
It turns out that the most recent tower collapses are part of a worrisome trend. In 2013, 13 workers died in accidents involving communication towers, representing more deaths than in the previous two years combined. With 2014 just a little more than halfway complete, already nine workers have lost their lives. No explanation was given for the rise in the number of deaths, although perhaps it could simply be due to the increase in cellular phone use, leading to greater coverage and more towers to be built to supply coverage. OSHA’s area director noted that the recent deaths were a “painful reminder” of dangers inherent in working on communication towers. S&S Communication had been previously fined $3,000 for worker safety violations, after a worker plunged over 300 feet from a communications tower located in Missouri. S&S was cited for failing to install proper systems to protect against falling.
This experience demonstrates that it is not just mine companies that need to follow safety rules strictly. Every company must do so, whether the work seems inherently risky or not. For those who have lost their loved ones on the job, they have the option of filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the company or a third party responsible. Otherwise, if a worker is injured, he or she can receive workers compensation payments in lieu of a salary. By law, an employee must accept the workers compensation insurance in place of the right to sue. This can be an advantage when it is not clear who was at fault, since workers compensation payments are provided regardless of fault, but a disadvantage when the payments do not compensate for the seriousness of the injury. An injured worker still has the right to sue any third party responsible for the injury.
The Wolfe Law Firm has been providing legal services for nearly 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm provides services in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, and mediation. If you are looking for an experienced West Virginia personal injury attorney, contact us today.