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FRONTLINE and ProPublica Present Cell Tower Deaths Tuesday, May 22, 2012, at 10 p.m. ET on PBS Print E-mail
Written by ProPublica   
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
Across the country, workers have been falling to their deaths from cell phone towers. To satisfy the ever-increasing demand for cell phone service, tower climbers install and service cell antennas, a job that requires them to ascend hundreds of feet.

In Cell Tower Deaths, a joint investigation with ProPublica, airing Tuesday, May 22, 2012, at 10 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith finds that over the last decade, the tower climbers who are building and servicing America's cellular infrastructure are about 10 times more likely than an average construction worker to die on the job.

High death rates among climbers are caused in part by demanding project deadlines, which lead some climbers to cut corners on safety equipment or to "free climb," a dangerous practice in which the climber is not attached to the tower. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations prohibit free climbing, yet it was involved in about half of the fatalities FRONTLINE and ProPublica examined.

FRONTLINE reveals that the major cell phone companies are shielded from accountability in the deaths by relying on layers of subcontracting to carry out the tower work. Subcontracting drives costs down and makes it difficult for the government to discipline the major cell carriers. "Just through their own policy they layer themselves away from it," say Randy Gray, a former OSHA inspector.

"Legally, there's no way we can really get to that company," says Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. "Our problem in this industry is that you have these little contractors that may set off in their pickup truck, you know,... and may never have any contact, face-to-face contact, with their contractors."

Join FRONTLINE at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23 for a live chat with
Cell Tower Deaths reporters and former cell tower climber Wally Reardon.

Also this hour: Nearly four years after the financial crisis, yet another scandal rocks Wall Street. Jon Corzine, former head of Goldman Sachs and political power broker, took over MF Global in the spring of 2010 with oversize ambition and a passion for risk. But after a massive bet on European debt turned sour, the firm lay in ruins, with more than a billion dollars of customer funds missing. In
The Six Billion Dollar Bet, FRONTLINE investigates how Corzine's traders went around MF Global's risk officers and how he swayed regulators in Washington to allow risky practices to continue.

Cell Tower Deaths is a FRONTLINE production with RAIN Media, Inc., in partnership with ProPublica. The film is written and produced by Travis Fox. Martin Smith is senior producer and correspondent. Reporting was by FRONTLINE's Ryan Knutson and ProPublica's Liz Day. The series senior producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.

FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and by Reva and David Logan. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation and by the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund. FRONTLINE is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers by the Media Access Group at WGBH. FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of the WGBH Educational Foundation.

Twitter: @frontlinepbs

ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. In 2010, it was the first online news organization to win a Pulitzer Prize. In 2011, ProPublica won the first Pulitzer awarded to a body of work that didn't appear in print. ProPublica is supported primarily by philanthropy and provides the articles it produces, free of charge, both through its own website and to leading news organizations selected with an eye toward maximizing the impact of each article.

Twitter: @propublica


Watch the embeddable trailer: www.pbs.org/frontline/cell-tower-deaths 



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