Qualtek Wireless fined $12K for fatal fall from Arlington cell tower

Michael Vasquez, 24, who served in the Marine Corps, fell 140 feet to his death. L&I found safety violations. QualTek is appealing.

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ARLINGTON — Washington state regulators fined a Pennyslvania wireless company $12,000 for safety violations after the death of a cellphone tower worker near Arlington last year.

On the afternoon of Dec. 4, 2021, Michael Vasquez was working on a Crown Castle cell tower in the 11000 block of 228th Street NE, according to fire officials. He fell about 140 feet to his death.

The Las Vegas man died from blunt force injuries, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office determined. His death was classified as an accident. He was 24.

Vasquez’s employer, QualTek Wireless, violated multiple safety rules, investigators from the state Department of Labor and Industries found in May. All three violations were considered serious.

The first infraction was for not conducting a daily “structural hazard assessment” on the cell tower. In the citation, inspectors noted this exposes workers to “potential serious hazards.” The second violation was for a similar issue. For those two, QualTek was fined $6,000.

The last violation, also for $6,000, was for not completing a daily inspection of the vertical climbing system. This would ensure the tower is safe to work on.

“An authorized climber with less experience was expected to perform this duty to the 140’ level where the work was being performed,” inspectors wrote in the citation. “This exposes employees to serious hazards that may cause disabling injuries or death.”

A spokesperson for QualTek did not respond to requests for comment. The company is appealing.

Vasquez served in the U.S. Marine Corps for almost four years, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was an electrician there. He started in June 2021 at Broken Arrow Communications, also known as Bacom. A couple months later, QualTek bought Bacom.

His resume listed certificates in rigging, climbing and rescue training.

On its website, QualTek prides itself of the safety on its job sites.

“Our Health and Safety Program complies with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations, as well as our own exceptional standards,” the website reads. “Our objective is to surpass best practices while eliminating or mitigating hazards that expose our personnel to injuries and illnesses. We hold our employees to the highest safety standards while also identifying new hazards and the effectiveness of our best-in-class safety programs.”

Falls are consistently the top cause of construction worker deaths in Washington, said Tim Church, a Labor and Industries spokesperson. In 2021, 16 construction workers died in work-related incidents. Six of those were from falls.

Inspectors found no violations by Crown Castle, the tower’s owner, Church said.

The cell tower is now fully functional, a Crown Castle spokesperson said. It has been operational since April.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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