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back to article The most dangerous job in America: Keeping iPhones connected

An investigation into the deaths of workers putting up cell towers has shown how US network operators distance themselves from those taking the risks, with AT&T's dash to provide iPhone connectivity allegedly killing more than most. The investigation was carried out by ProPublica and (US TV show) Frontline, which have spent the …

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Anonymous Coward

It used to be a dollar a foot

I have worked with people how worked on high towers. In addition to your base pay, you got one dollar for every foot you went up. Good money but a very high stress job. Also, it was back before subcontracting subcontractors which is very common today. Safety rules were strictly enforced.

Companies love subcontractors because it isn't their fault. They might know that it is absolutely impossible to get the job done safely in the amount of time expected but it still isn't their fault.

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Paris Hilton

Re: It used to be a dollar a foot

I, too, remember it being US$1 per foot, but that was 30 years ago or so. I had a friend who was a tower climber. Those flashing lights on towers have to be replaced every so often, not to mention antenna work, transmission line work, etc. That wasn't bad money back in the early 1980s, although he only worked a few days per month (Can't really work in inclement weather, at night, etc., at least not safely).

Dave

P.S. Paris, because I'd like to climb that! ;-)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It used to be a dollar a foot

I'm only on the periphery of the mobile network but having seen a network rollout go without incident (in a country that is technically in the third world, using local employees), I'm inclined to view the US accident figures as poor and, quite frankly symptomatic of the US's fuck you attitude to anyone who does this type of work. Accidents will happen but lethal accidents should be very rare.

Come to think about it.... Thinking about the terrain (in the particular country I was in at the time), there should be more fatalities getting to and from some of the towers in the first place!

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Facepalm

Re: It used to be a dollar a foot

It's NOT AT&T's fault.

Blame game. Did an ATT exec push the workers off the tower? Any job today is a balance between time and cost. In the end...the tower worker is the one making the choice and is solely in control of every step/ladder rung they climb.

Weak minded fools are always the first to blame others for their mistakes. Man up america!

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FAIL

Re: It used to be a dollar a foot

@ GotThumbs

If you're a large company commissioning work, or purchasing goods, then the way you do so, directly influences the shape of the supply chain.

Example: if you place an order for 1000 televisions, but do so at the back of the Wetherspoon pub in Birkenhead, with Mickey Headcase, then you're probably going to be responsible for an extremely unpleasant and violent robbery or ten. Whereas if you do so through a wholesaler, whose premises you know are clean and safe, who gives you documentation of the provenance of the goods, you can be happier you're not causing a menace.

It's called quality assurance, and it's what conscientious customers generally prefer (you excepted of course), the alternative being a PR disaster for whichever company is exposed as practising it.

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Re: It used to be a dollar a foot

@ Tapeador, That wouldn't be The Swinging arm would it? Horrible boozer, put's The Swan on my side of the River to shame.

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Anonymous Coward

"Did an [name irrelevant] exec push the workers off the tower?"

If the execs want to be considered as personally responsible when things go well (so they get very very big personal rewards), then surely they must also be considered personally responsible when things go wrong, hopefully up to and including being personally locked up where appropriate?

Why pay the bonus to the individual when things go right but fine the company (ie its customers) when things go wrong?

In the UK the Grayrigg rail crash (causing one death and many serious injuries) is a recent example of the way this works; there are many others. The seniors cut spending on track maintenance and then paid themselves a big bonus because profits are up. A while later the reduced track maintenance directly causes a fatal accident.

A legal investigation finds the original management negligent, but they are not held personally responsible. Instead, a fine of millions of pounds is imposed, which will be paid by the company and come from... the same maintenance budget where cuts caused the accident. Nice.

GotThumbs not got a clue on this one.

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Thumb Down

Re: It used to be a dollar a foot

Unless they actually employ the people directly, or set out safety standards and then inspect to ensure the standards are being met, they are just as responsible for every death as clothing manufacturers are for having clothes made in sweat shops, or Apple is for the standards at factories making their iToys. (not singling Apple out here for any reason but its the most well known).

If I was using contractors, one death down the chain doing a job I ordered would be enough for me to 'discuss' the contract with the people and consider cutting out middle men and employ/contract directly to the people doing the job!

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Re: It used to be a dollar a foot

In the UK things are different. I know a tower climber, he used to be on a monstrously ludicrous wage. Granted his life insurance was of the "pay per day" variety and the worst thing that happened was when legislation required 2 climbers per job so his salary halved.

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Re: It used to be a dollar a foot

Well, in the UK, it would be their fault.

Quite simply, the principal contractor is responsible for the actions of subcontractors it uses.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It used to be a dollar a foot

So if we paid somebody to shoot you, we wouldn't be responsible?

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Paris Hilton

Re: P.S. Paris, because I'd like to climb that! ;-)

You better be careful!!!! It could be dangerous inserting objects into a `black hole`!!

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Welcome to capitalism

If the execs want to be considered as personally responsible when things go well (so they get very very big personal rewards), then surely they must also be considered personally responsible when things go wrong, hopefully up to and including being personally locked up where appropriate?

One of the primary attributes of a corporation (arguably the most important one, though it's in a dead heat with concentrating capital) is that it limits personal liability. Capitalist societies accept[1] granting this benefit to the owners and management of corporations, in exchange for the increased economic efficiencies and productivity that in theory[2] follow from increasing the economic incentives for entrepreneurial activity.

Of course "limited personal liability" is itself limited, and management should be held accountable for misfeasance and criminal activity they had knowledge of. And even beyond that, the law (I think rightly) can hold them criminally negligent even when they don't have knowledge of some categories of corporate misbehavior.

But to say that they should be "personally responsible", full stop, is to junk the corporation and other limited-liability structures in favor of personal direct ownership and partnerships with no liability protections. It'd basically be a return to feudalism and coverture.

[1] By "accept", of course I mean that the gradient of political power, which is what undergirds the legal superstructure of a society, maintains it. That's the result of complex fields of vested interests and ideologies; it's not like everyone in a society sits down and says, "here's the list of trade-offs we're going to make".

[2] And in practice, historically; there's never been an economic system of size and efficiency to rival global capitalism. That doesn't make capitalism the "best" system in some essential sense, but it does mean that no one's been able to demonstrate a viable superior alternative in real-world conditions.

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Dog bites man with an Apple product - big time news

Why do you have to mention Apple product, are these antennas are exclusively for iPhone?

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Re: Dog bites man with an Apple product - big time news

may be because Apple has a history of using subcontractors with worker safety and work hour issues .. like Foxconn

or it's just our nature to pick on the #1 and #8 corporate entities in the US ..

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Re: Dog bites man with an Apple product - big time news

Agreed, it would have been a perfectly good article without hyping the headline.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Dog bites man with an Apple product - big time news

"Why do you have to mention Apple product, are these antennas are exclusively for iPhone?"

Yes iPhone did have to be mentioned.

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Trollface

Re: Dog bites man with an Apple product - big time news

@Sorry that handle is already taken : This *is* El Reg.... without the tarty headlines and (sometimes) biased verb, we would be reading The Guardian instead...

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AT&T + Apple: What a pair of shmucks

The ex-AT&T VP they interviewed in the program was very clear the driver was the rollout of the iPhone. So you have Apple on one end insulating itself from the working conditions of those making the phones, and their original partner AT&T insulating itself on the extreme other end of the connection from those who have to climb the towers. I hope all those Apple fanbois are proud.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: AT&T + Apple: What a pair of shmucks

But don't Samsung and Motorola own the patents for these 3G services, so surely they're more to blame than Apple.

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Happy

Re: AT&T + Apple: What a pair of shmucks

As an iPhone user, I have to say I do not give a shit. They are lucky they are working.

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Mushroom

@Uncle Bernie

"As an iPhone user, I have to say I do not give a shit. They are lucky they are working."

And THIS attitude, folks, is why I detest Apple and its fanbois and refuse to allow them or their products on my property.

I hope your iPhone's batteries explode and blow your bollocks off, then I won't give a shit.

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Re: AT&T + Apple: What a pair of shmucks

To paraphrase someone else (Dame Edna) May your apples turn into bicycle wheels and backpedal up your arse

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Flame

Re: Steve Roper @Uncle Bernie

Hey f**k u 2 Steve.

Uncle Bernie makes me barf, at many levels. His, and AT&T's, is exactly the kinda attitude that gets people all romantic about socialism and nasty capitalists eating lil Irish babies. Underpay your contractors in a dangerous job => expect accidents. Simple as that. I wouldn't want live with that.

In fact, I really hope he's just pulling our chain and trolling. Hard to say - he sounds like such a twat.

But your generalization is pretty childish nonetheless. I won't change my phone because of this, though this would definitely weigh against me continuing or taking up any relationship with AT&T, were I in the US.

Like someone else said those towers aren't just for one piece of kit.

Have no fear, despite your idiocy, I would spill my beer on Uncle Bernie's head before yours. Sorry, on his hydrophobic iPhone. After spitting a wad of chewing tobacco cud in it.

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Re: AT&T + Apple: What a pair of shmucks

"As an iPhone user, I have to say I do not give a shit. They are lucky they are working"

wow. I hope your safety mechanism at your place of work are up to scratch then.

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WTF?

Re: @Uncle Bernie

"And THIS attitude, folks, is why I detest Apple and its fanbois and refuse to allow them or their products on my property."

And THIS attitude, folks, is why I detest racists and bigots. They tar whole groups of people with their own nasty brush and spread hatred unnecessarily.

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@Danwold

Quite, Dan: and well expressed.

I'm a long-standing Mac user (since the late 1980's) and I own an iPhone4, which I suppose would be sufficient for some to contemptuously dismiss me as a fanboi - whatever that is.

I know many Mac users:- some are delightful, and some less so. Very much less so, in some cases.

I know many PC users:- some are delightful, and some less so. Very much less so, in some cases.

There appears to be no correlation with their system of choice.

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FAIL

Re: @Uncle Bernie

"And THIS attitude, folks, is why I detest racists and bigots."

Excuse me? Detesting Apple fanbois is racist now? How to undermine a cause over trivia!

There ought to be a Godwin's law for the word "racist".

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Mushroom

The Frontline Show

Can be watched from free from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) web site:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/cell-tower-deaths/

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Frontline Show

'This film is not available in your region because of rights restrictions.

We apologize for the inconvenience.'

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Thumb Up

Re: The Frontline Show

Hey, it works here in France :D I'll watch it while I can :)

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Devil

But our policy says it doesn't happen

"Our contracts with these companies require strict compliance with state and federal laws and regulations"

Well, that's all right then. As long as the policy is OK then the dead bodies obviously don't count.

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Anonymous Coward

I've been told be people that work for ATT that if you fall or get hurt while climbing they say it's your fault for not checking that it was save. As result when people get injured people are hesitant to report it for fear of being fired. Yes ATT has a union.

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Should be safer than rock climbing

These climbers have safety harnesses etc available to them. If they use these there should be no way to plummet to a sticky end.

Rock climbing is generally only unsafe when people screw around or the rock breaks. Since the steel fittings of the tower are unlikely to break, tower climbing really only provides opportunity for death through screwing around.

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142
Alert

Re: tower climbing really only provides opportunity for death through screwing around.

Your opinion may change after watching this..... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqyuo-BLt00&feature=relmfu

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Re: Should be safer than rock climbing

As someone who used to be a tower climber as part of my job in college I have to say that the safety harness is nice for when you're working at the top (or wheverever on the tower the equipment is located) BUT for the ascent and descent being clipped in is difficult. You spend more time clipping/unclipping to get around all the stuff attached -- guy wires, lower level antennas, lights, etc. Some towers run a clip line attachment up the tower that minimizes the amount of reclipping but that is rare (at least when I was doing this 25 years ago).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: tower climbing really only provides opportunity for death through screwing around.

I'll just leave this here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7k4Xk1mEwmI&feature=related

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FAIL

Re: tower climbing really only provides opportunity for death through screwing around.

@142: That's not a cell tower, nor a 3G antenna. It sure looks like a scary job, but it's in a totally different league.

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Re: tower climbing really only provides opportunity for death through screwing around.

looks like a TV transmitter.

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Re: Should be safer than rock climbing

Yes but they are not top roping and there is no belay. They have to free climb / clip a sling on every few steps. It would take so long to get to the top that there is not enough time to complete the task and climb down again in one day if they climb and clip each step.

They dont even use ropes so cant ab down afterwards.

I'd actually rather be doing this for a living that sitting behind this desk telling other people to do it!

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Pint

Re: tower climbing really only provides opportunity for death through screwing around.

well yes, I know it's something of the worst case when it comes to these things, but my point is that even for cell transmitters - the equipment being lugged around is often a sizable proportion of the weight of the person on the tower, with plenty of ways for someone to be badly hurt, safety hooks, or no safety hooks!

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Re: Should be safer than rock climbing

So what you are saying is that the safety gear is there, and safety is possible, but it is inconvenient to use so climbers take chances and employers probably turn a blind eye because doing things by the book reduces productivity.

Pretty much what I was saying.

While I have not climbed towers per se, I have climbed other structures. I used safety kit. Yes, it was a drag having to clip and unclip every step. Yes it took forever, but I was safe.

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Re: tower climbing really only provides opportunity for death through screwing around.

Looking scary and feeling exposed are totally different to actual safety.

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Anonymous Coward

bleuerrhgh

Health and safety gone mad, I say!

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Stop

FREE-CLIMBING?!?!?!

That's the sort of thing OSHA should be shutting companies down over if it can be proved that it's their customary way of doing things. (Yes, I understand the difficulties involved in proving it.)

As someone whose employer operates in a similarly dangerous industrial sector but has a superb safety record, I... words fail me. I'm surprised there haven't been civil lawsuits over any of these deaths.

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Re: FREE-CLIMBING?!?!?!

Yeah free-climbing on a tower's insane. But something tells me that the employees are doing it for whatever reason and either the supervisors are turning a blind eye to it (or even going so far as to covering it up) and know its going on, or the employees are doing it, not telling anyone and then crying foul when someone gets killed.

In all honesty its probably both and varies depending on contractor.

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Re: FREE-CLIMBING?!?!?!

Difficulties in proving it? Could they not just get someone to sit in a car near where the work is being done with a camera with a telephoto lens, that seems like proof to me.

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Re: FREE-CLIMBING?!?!?!

They could, the issue is getting the guy with the camera in the right place at the right time. Those companies work all over the place. And a phone call asking where you can go to do an inspection spoils it a bit.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: FREE-CLIMBING?!?!?!

If you're spotted free-climbing on an Arqiva site in the UK (i.e. most TV and FM transmitter sites and more) by an Arqiva employee you'll be instantly dismissed. They do appear on site with cameras as well.....

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