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John Garziglia

Tower Deaths

This week, a fatal accident took place in Indiana, when two ERI employees fell 340 feet from a tower they were working on. It not only reminds us how dangerous this job is for engineers, it serves as a reminder to make sure everyone is covered in the event an unfortunate accident like this takes place. We asked attorney John Garziglia to tackle that question this week in our "Ask The Attorney" segment.

"What liability does a radio station have when a tower contractor repairing a station tower falls and dies?"

The short answer to this is that a radio station has a liability for tower contractor falling off a tower similar to that it would have if an engineering contractor was electrocuted while working on the transmitter, or a lawn service contractor was killed by ice falling from the tower.  All are tragedies where factors in a station's potential exposure to liability will be the station's negligence, if any, what the contractor's contract provided, and what the insurance policies for both the station and the contractor cover.

Thankfully, a tragedy like this is relatively rare. Be sure that a contractor is fully insured before performing work at a station, as well as being sure that the station's own insurance policies fully cover work performed by contractors on a station's premises. Events like this are a good wake-up call to visit with your insurance agent and possibly your lawyer to be sure that your existing insurance policies and contacts with contractors fully cover both liability and defense costs of such an event, and to review the insurance that your contractors carry to ascertain whether the station is amply protected.

There are also a few ancillary issues for which this tragedy serves as a reminder. First of all, never ever allow a tower crew to be on your tower in violation of your RF exposure procedures (you do have an RF exposure procedures for anyone climbing your tower, correct?). While most tower crews are highly cognizant of RF hazards, knowingly or negligently letting a tower crew climb a tower without powering down live antennas to safe RF levels while workers are on the tower could lead to a claim being made months or years later by a tower worker claiming to be physically harmed by RF exposure.

Second, some tower crews, particularly tower painters, have a reputation for being somewhat wild.  A station's knowledge of risk-defying behavior by a tower crew, such as a failure to use proper safety harnesses, climbing a tower in excessive winds or during times of possible electrical storm activity, or climbing a tower that has other issues, could expose the station to a significant liability.

Third, tower structural standards have been significantly upgraded in the past few years. A tower that was in structural compliance when built may very well not be now, and any changes or additions to a tower may create issues for existing towers.

Keep in mind that the FCC requires that any tower with an FCC Antenna Structure Registration Number (ASR) to have that number posted on a weatherproof sign at the bottom of the tower at a location that can be seen. If the entire tower site is fenced, it is advisable to also put such a sign at the entrance gate to the tower so it can be seen from an area with public access.

Also, check to be sure that the ASR is in the name of the current tower owner as in some past station sales, parties to the transaction have neglected to transfer the tower ASR to the new station owner. If you are not absolutely certain that the ASR and/or station license reflects accurate tower geographic coordinates, the FCC will likely issue a significant fine if the FCC catches this discrepancy before you do.

Amazingly, some 15 years after the FCC required stations to confirm the accuracy of geographic coordinates of licensed facilities and towers, there are still instances of significant discrepancies being found. Google Earth appears to be a fairly accurate method of checking geographic coordinates. If the geographic coordinates in Google Earth of what appears to be your tower site do not precisely match the geographic coordinates on the tower ASR (in NAD 83) and the geographic coordinates on the station's license (in NAD 27), then a conversation with your station's engineer is in order. If you are going to use Google Earth to check your tower location, an amazing free plug-in from Cavell Mertz & Associates, Inc. consulting engineers showing tower locations for all broadcast stations is available at: http://www.fccinfo.com/fccinfo_google_earth.php. Try it if you enjoy stuff like looking at broadcast towers from the air!

Finally, the FCC and FAA have strict rules and procedures for tower light inspections, the logging of tower light inspections, and the reporting of tower light outages, violations of which can incur substantial fines. Check with your station's chief operator to be sure that the FCC's rules with regard to tower lights are being strictly followed.

While no accident or incident involving a tower is good, such an event can serve as a reminder to review potential issues. The time in the wake of a tragedy is often when attention by a station's staff may be more successfully focused on the subject.

John F. Garziglia is a Communications Law Attorney with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Washington, DC and can be reached at (202) 857-4455 or jgarziglia@wcsr.com. Have a question for our "Ask The Attorney" feature? Send to edryan@radioink.com.




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