Climbers have many issues with the way we are currently not addressing issues in the industry. Its 2022, we install the greatest tech in the world, have issues with the industry and are not listened to at all. Primary contractors, carriers, tower owners, or anyone that creates policy and regulation seam to take no or very limited input from actual climbers. One big issue that seems to be swept under the rug is bird sites, not nesting sites, but vulture towers.
For year’s it’s been standard to just climb and work on towers covered in bird vomit, feces, and ticks. If a tower is 50% or more covered in feces with vomit you can guarantee ticks are just under the surface of supports, mounting brackets and in every nook n’ cranny on the structure. Crews will spend a few hours or weeks in these environments depending on the tasks.
For an industry so concerned with safety how have carriers, tower owners, and contractors let this slide by for so long? As climbers we know the current bird deterrents available do not do justice for deterring birds from landing on tower structures. We climb then find them to be covered with feces, vomit, and ticks just as much as the tower.
Dangers of working with vulture towers, reeking, corrosive vomit, feces, and ticks. When threatened, vulture’s vomit to lighten their body weight which means they can fly off faster and deter predators. When climbers get up the tower you can guarantee that any method that they use to scare off the vulture’s results in fresh corrosive vomit. This can create dangerous conditions for the climbers. When wet, these structures are extremely slippery, and when they are dry this fine powdered combination of vomit with feces flakes off then gets everywhere. This flaked off feces easily gets into the nose, ears, eyes, and mouth of anyone around.
Who’s to blame? Is anyone to blame for not addressing these issues? Site supervisor / Construction manager for not pushing the issue up the chain of command so the primary contractor, tower owner, carrier can address these issues? Or maybe tower owners who know these sites exists and have no signage to make climbers aware of the posable health risks? Carriers that might refuse to pay for a day or 2 for a crane, with manpower as well, to clean the sites equipment and mounts before upgrading these sites? Maybe it’s us the climbers that don’t speak up and refuse to work in these conditions. Most contractors will tell their crews to go get some dust masks, painter’s suites and other PPE. I have been covered head to toe in a painter’s suit with hoodie, booties, gloves that were all duck tapped together to complete a task that was limited to 2 days. I made it a point to refuse to work on these structures more than a day or 2 without mitigating the hazard on a larger scale. On multiple occasions we got lucky with the opportunity to pressure wash top and bottom of the site before beginning new installs. The pressure wash cleaning enabled us to work for extended periods without the hot PPE suits weighing us down.
Solutions that industry leaders can implement
- Investments in bird deterrent research to develop something that works
- Tower owners and policy makers across the board make it a violation to send climbers to work on these structures that are 50% or more covered in vomit and feces
o For short jobs 1 day or less required PPE policy, body suit, gloves, glasses, facemask, head cover
o For jobs longer than 2 days a hazard mitigation plan that includes washing the tower top, structure, mounts, equipment, and base station equipment
- Requirement for tower owners to have site signs stating the tower is a known vulture roost site and proper mitigation steps need to be taken before work can start
Carriers have a lot of money and their equipment on the towers is very expensive. It only makes sense that carriers as well as tower owners would want to protect the climbers that install their equipment. It’s also safe to say they would want to protect their structures from vulture feces with corrosive vomit off their mounts. Basically, all safety costs have been passed down to the end contractor. Cleaning these sites up for the safety of climbers should be easy to become standard practice. This will also drive innovation in the industry to create a bird deterrent that will finally work.
- Vomit – Is extremely corrosive to the structure, mounts, equipment, and climber’s harnesses as well as climbing PPE
- Feces – When wet it is extremely slippery and sticks to anything that touches it, hands, gloves, climbing gear etc. When dry it flakes off and gets into airways, eyes, and ears.
- Ticks – Very common on the bird infested towers that can cause diseases
- Diseases Transmitted by Ticks. See cited sources below
o Borrelia mayonii
o Borrelia miyamotoi
o Bourbon virus
o Colorado tick fever
o Heartland virus
o Lyme disease
o Powassan disease
o Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis
o Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF)
o STARI (Southern tick-associated rash illness)
o Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF)
o 364D rickettsiosis (Rickettsia phillipi, proposed)
- Bird Flu
o Bird Flu Claims Over 100 Black Vultures in New Jersey. See cited sources below
o Bird Flu spreads from infected birds to humans; human-to-human spread is noted only in people in close contact with infected persons.
o Infection can spread via feces of infected birds, or secretions from the nose, mouth, or eyes of infected birds and humans
o In rare cases, the Infection can spread from infected person to another person through sneezing and coughing
Cited sources and other important links
Bird flu: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatments (msn.com)
Bird Flu Claims Over 100 Black Vultures in New Jersey (gizmodo.com)
Diseases Transmitted by Ticks | Ticks | CDC
Vulture Poop Has Compromised a Customs and Border Protection Radio Tower in Texas | Smart News| Smithsonian Magazine
- January 13, 2020. Vulture Poop Has Compromised a Customs and Border Protection Radio Tower in Texas. United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has lost control of a radio tower in Texas—not to a downed power line or a bizarre frequency fritz, but to a flock of well-fed vultures that arrived to unceremoniously drop a deuce.
Vultures who came to stay bring year of acid vomit and toxic feces to small town | North Carolina | The Guardian
- October 26, 2021. Vultures who came to stay bring year of acid vomit and toxic feces to small town. Over the past 12 months a high school and a cell tower have become the birds’ regular haunts, along with the home of one unfortunate local resident, Ally Leggett.
By James Jenkins 09/13/2022
Hello Tower Hands, Joshua McGhee here. I’ve been in this wonderful industry for 10 years, 7 months, 12hrs, 20 mins, and 7 seconds at the time of this message but who’s counting. I love my journey and how it has helped to put up so much infrastructure that still stands today. The amazingness of walking away from a jobsite and knowing that you damn near touched everything on that site. I think I will take my good friend and business partner James Jenkins word an also write a blog soon. It’s good for us to write things down from time to time about our adventures living on the road and how we got here.
This industry however is constantly changing and sometimes maybe not considering our best interest. The biggest controversy and something that no one ever seemed to understand is the removal of carabiners. This is a topic that most of us have dealt with for quite some time now but becoming a popular subject yet again. I remember about 5 years ago being told that we were no longer allowed to use carabiners for light loads. We stood there looking at each other dumb founded. For myself as well as my brothers we could not make sense of why we would ever remove carabiners from our life of rigging. It was always understood that when we were picking heavy loads (such as picking up full built mounts or while using a ginpole) we would utilize shackles that were well rated for the job of completion. For lighter loads (such as picking nose bags, AAT tool, testing gear, snacks, lunch, waters what have you) we would always use carabiners that you pretty much trust to even pick your truck up with. Carabiners which all veteran climbers are comfortable with are self-locking and self-closing which can be removed simply with one hand. Shackles on the other hand require two hands to remove causing much frustration when using for heavily repeated lighter loads. It just doesn’t make sense to add more parts to an already complicated system when its already more effective and seemingly safer. Once the change happened, I noticed more issues with having to maintain the load while keeping from dropping the parts to the shackle. It gave me an even more uneasy feeling knowing a greenie could be doing it above my head.
The other part that hurts is that carabiners were removed without even taking our thoughts into consideration. Like, why do our required rigging plans of today not have a listing to utilize carabiners for lighter loads. Whose idea was it to remove them from service because I can’t see it being a tower climber. Tower owners and real estate companies are at fault for carabiners removal. The reason for removal of carabiners that we hear at the top is from tower deaths where a carabiner was used. I have yet to see any proven research that can prove this claim that a worker died from using a carabiner properly and it just simply failed. It would be nice if the workers who risk their lives on a daily could help with decisions that affect us all. I am not pro or anti-union, but I do strongly feel that tower workers need to have a voice in the decisions that put our lives at risk and union does seem like a good place to start though. Something I think about often is if the job wasn’t dangerous, I also doubt any of us would find it interesting to begin with. It’s the adrenaline running and the mind running wide open on creating solutions to problems.
The solution I feel is that we should be coming together from top to bottom before making unnecessary changes to our industry. The power of one voice can change the world imagine many. I’m going to start a news article for Tower Hands to keep us updated on current subjects such as this one. Let’s keep pushing on Tower Dawgs and know that good change is coming so long as we stick together.
By Josh McGhee 08/11/2022