AMATEUR RADIO TOWER WORK CLAIMS LIVES AT A RATE NEARLY SEVEN TIMES GREATER THAN SKYDIVING.
Amateur radio, authorized by governments around the world and valued for its benefits to society, has existed for over 100 years. Antennas and the towers to support them are integral to the hobby. You can’t have ham radio without them. They are everywhere.
Core to the amateur radio mission is pursuit of technological advancement; this is how we learn and increase our ability to contribute to society. Optimization of antennas at heights is part of that opportunity for advancement – and we recognize that it comes with associated risks.
WE HAVE A PROBLEM
Unfortunately, a close look at the safety record associated with amateur radio tower climbing gives us pause. Statistics show that we are at high risk of death or serious injury the moment we begin to climb.
When we compare amateur tower climbing with other activities considered ‘risky’, like professional tower climbing and skydiving, we find that amateur climbing results in a fatality rate far greater than those activities.
The impact of this high fatality rate is substantial and far-reaching. It hits family and friends of victims hardest, of course. But, the impact goes further than that. It creates a perception of tower work, and ham radio more broadly, as risky pursuits that are best avoided.
IT’S A SOLVABLE PROBLEM
Upon close inspection, the data show that there are just two major categories of mishaps – falling attached to an unsafe tower and free-fall. If we take steps to address this Deadly Duo, we can eliminate upwards of 80-90% of the disastrous events we see in our world. And, we even know what needs to be done to eliminate the last 10-20%.
The technical, on-the-job solutions to these types of mishaps are, in fact, known. And, they are all well within the reach of the average ham radio tower owner/maintainer. The problem of falling while attached to an unsafe tower is readily solved by climbing towers only when they are known to be safe, particularly during construction and take-down of guyed towers. Free-fall is eliminated with commitment to 100% Attach. We don’t have to guess; we know from the commercial world, where these changes have been implemented, that they will work.
IT’S A BIG GOAL – IT WILL REQUIRE A MAJOR EFFORT
We face special challenges when we try to change behavior in our community. Unlike the commercial tower climbing community, we do not live under the specter of mandatory safety standards compliance, enforced by OSHA inspections and fines for violations. Instead, we operate in a permissive environment where every ham can choose to be as informed or uninformed and to behave as safely or unsafely as he chooses.
Our community is not monolithic. There are several segments in our world, each having a different level of knowledge and disposition toward tower safety. Some are simply unaware of the risks – they are the Uninformed. Some are aware of the risks, but are Unmotivated to address them. And, we have a segment that is aware of the risks and how to mitigate them, but continues to behave unsafely – the Invincible. We need strategies to shepherd each of these segments towards adoption of the right behaviors.
We need to inspire a sea change in attitudes. Adulation for the bravery of a free-climber must be replaced with feelings of betrayal by a community member. In the wake of a dismantling disaster, sweeping of facts under the rug or changing them to deflect responsibility from ‘people to parts’ must be replaced with full, unvarnished disclosure of the behaviors that were at the root of the debacle.
Individuals, local and special-Interest communities, and national organizations must act. Individuals need make a personal commitment to a higher standard. Local clubs must adopt standards for their members and provide education and support. National organizations must invest in awareness, education, standard-setting, tracking and reporting.
AN EVIDENCE-BASED APPROACH
Over the course of amateur radio history, stories of tower-related injuries and fatalities have appeared in our news stream. Usually a brief magazine article, e-mail or posting to a social media forum is what we see. On occasion, someone close to a particular event has taken the initiative to write a more detailed description, providing further insight into the details of what happened.
Additional evidence exists in the multitude of writings, posts, literature, audio and video recordings that reflect our knowledge and attitudes towards tower climbing safety.
Individually, these data points are interesting. But, taken as a whole, they hold the potential to teach us a great deal about where we are, how we got here and what the future may hold.
The accumulated story of tower-work fatalities — both the facts of these tragic events and our understanding of the environment in which they occurred — is a valuable data set worthy of exploration and in-depth analysis.
Evidence from outside amateur radio also offers great potential for learning. We have explored several other activity areas where danger is present to understand the relative level of risk and how those involved manage those risks.
This report attempts to use all available evidence to develop a comprehensive understanding of the state of tower safety in our community and to identify viable paths toward elimination of the risks.
THE RESULTS ARE WORTH THE INVESTMENT
A safer amateur radio benefits all. Even a single life saved is worth our effort. And, it is important to note that, while our focus in this report is on reducing fatalities, we know that there are innumerable unreported serious injuries that can also be avoided through these same efforts.
Within our community, improved safety in tower climbing should make us more comfortable taking on the exciting work we love to do. Beyond our community it sends an important message that we care and feel responsible for our people. It makes amateur radio more attractive to society as a whole.
THE ALLIANCE NEEDS YOU
Our strength is our community. Join the alliance and help create a safer environment for all hams.