According to a story in this week's RCR Wireless News (no online link yet), building and climbing towers (which can be hundreds of feet tall) is more dangerous than ranching, fishing, logging, and even ironworking. The fatality rate is currently 183.6 deaths per 100,000 workers: Five tower workers died during one 12-day span earlier this year alone. 18 tower workers died on the job in 2006.
The cause for the runup in tower worker deaths isn't completely clear, but it's likely a combination of careless working practices (workers not using safety gear 100 percent of the time, or not using it correctly) and network operators pushing to build out and upgrade their networks too quickly. Hard to blame carriers for wanting to get faster networks up and running, but not at the cost of human life. (RCR is careful to note that the investigation into the rise in fatalities is too early to attribute to any specific source.)
Oddly, a loophole in OSHA rules may make it difficult for changes to happen quickly: Towers are often constructed by small contractors instead of the carriers or the owners of the towers. Since the carrier isn't on site during the construction of the tower, the contractor receives the fine and the carrier and owner face no sanctions. (That hasn't stopped the families of some of the deceased workers from suing carriers, though.)
Up next: Workers and their unions are hoping to push through federal legislation which could lead to more thorough regulations covering safety in this largely ignored industry.