Tower climber safety project earns May grad national award


Wallace “Wally” Reardon, a May graduate of SUNY Oswego, will receive a national award for a tower climber safety project he began in college and has continued this summer with Upstate Medical University’s Occupational Health Clinical Center.

Wally Reardon climbing tower.Reardon, a Pulaski resident who climbed towers hundreds of feet high for 13 years, witnessed a colleague’s catastrophic injury, gathered stories and data from climbers and managers, worked with grieving families and, as a SUNY Oswego senior in 2009-10, did a tower climbers safety project, under Lisa Glidden, assistant professor of political science.

Now he is receiving a national award for that project, which has become the Workers at Heights Health and Safety Initiative. Reardon will accept the 2010 Tony Mazzocchi Award for grassroots health and safety activism in November at the annual conference of the American Public Health Association in Denver.

He and Patricia Rector, director of outreach and education for Upstate’s OHCC, also will co-present a paper on the worker-focused approach Reardon has applied to climber safety.

“There was a very limited number of papers that were accepted (for presentation), so we’re very excited about that,” Rector said.

Rector said her organization has applied to the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration for long-term funding to employ their talented intern, with the vision of taking his program national.

Reardon will have a head start the week of July 26 when he appears in Washington, D.C., as an invited safety and victim advocate at a national conference of the United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities, an activist group for families of workers who have died in industrial accidents.

Climbing communications towers is grueling, dangerous work in all kinds of wind and weather, he said.

“Some of the equipment we hauled up the towers were big, bulky lighting units that often weighed 50 to 60 pounds,” Reardon said. “We would climb up the tower, (with that) hanging beneath us hooked to our belts.” Some antennas weighed more than 100 pounds with mounting hardware, he said, and tool belts, safety gear and heavy clothing added to the burden.

The fast-growing communications industry has sometimes put safety in the background in the rush to put up towers, Reardon said, and so have some climbers.

“The sad part is a lot of tower climbers don’t know the plight they’re in,” he said. “Most companies hire unskilled workers for the best-paying jobs they’ve ever had. They (the companies) have a facade of safety programs, rules and regulations, and zero tolerance for things like failing to tie off at any height above six feet. But they don’t follow up.”

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PHOTO CAPTION: Safety first—Wallace “Wally” Reardon nears the top of a 1,100-foot television tower in the late 1990s on Grand Island. He has since retired from climbing after witnessing a colleague’s catastrophic injury. He graduated from SUNY Oswego in May and now will receive a national award for a tower climbers safety program he began in college. (Courtesy of Wallace Reardon)

(Posted: Jul 22, 2010)

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