Communication Tower Safety Involves Many
BY CHRISTINE TORRES
Published December 19, 2017
Communication and broadcast tower construction, service, and maintenance was at one time a very small and highly specialized industry. The growing demand for wireless and broadcast communications in the past 30 years has spurred a dramatic increase in communication tower construction and maintenance. Electricity, metal, dangerous weather, and falls are just some of the safety factors workers must be mindful of while completing communication tower tasks. Visual communication and training tools can help assist in alerting workers of those dangers as well as offer tips for improved safety.
Employees climb towers from 100 feet to as high as 2,000 feet throughout the year, even during inclement weather conditions, to perform routine checks, maintenance, construction, and antenna or computer equipment upgrades. For 2017, OSHA has recorded six communication tower-related fatalities. In August, three men died while working on a TV transmission tower in Miami. There were seven fatalities in 2016 and four in 2015. In 2014, there were 10 fatalities at communication tower worksites and 14 fatalities in 2013. OSHA is working with industry stakeholders to identify the causes of these injuries and fatalities, and to reduce the risks faced by employees in the communication tower industry.
Frequently Encountered Hazards Include:
- Electrical hazards such as arc flash
- Hazards associated with improper rigging and hoisting personnel and equipment with base-mounted drum hoists
- Inclement weather and working during night hours
- Falling objects or “struck-by” hazards
- Equipment failure
- Structural collapse
Responsibility in communication tower employee safety has several layers. Contractors might construct a tower, then carriers often contract with vendors for installation and maintenance of equipment on the tower; those vendors might then sub-contract work on the tower. As a result, carriers and tower owners may not know who is performing work for them, or when work is being performed. Employer responsibilities of safety can be spread out. Climbers need to be prepared, but safety communication and emergency kits must be available for any person who steps on the site. OSHA requires warning signs and protection from arc flash hazards and compliance with NFPA 70E on towers.
According to the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE), safety at all times should be the goal of all parties involved in tower work. “As a climber, it’s your job to be aware of the situation around you when faced with challenging conditions,” host Ryan Van Duzer, a travel video journalist, says in a NATE safety video. “Be prepared both personally and with your equipment. It comes down to this: Either do it right or don’t do it.”
Before allowing an employee to perform any job related to hoisting employees aloft for tower work, ensure that the employee receives effective training on the fall protection equipment used and how to safely access and depart from communication towers. The operator should understand and practice safe operation and emergency procedures. Document all trial lifts, inspections, proof tests, and pre-lift meetings, and keep the documentation on-site at a readily accessible location. Mark slippery surfaces on platforms with grip tape for added foot safety for hoisted workers. Ensure guardrails and other fall protection items are clearly marked for visibility and communicate safe work boundaries. Post safety training tips and make sure PPE, such as arc flash harnesses, and hardware is appropriate for each task and labeled and stored in the tower’s base shelter. From the largest machine to the smallest tool, use asset tags with barcodes, which can be scanned to pull up the asset’s information and more.
Cable Marking System
Ensure that controls are clearly marked (or are part of a control arrangement diagram) and are easily visible from the operator's station using signs and labels. Post the personnel load capacity and specified rated capacity of the lifting system in use on a sign at the site near the location of the hoist operator. When the system changes, update the posted capacity. Rated load capacities, recommended operating speeds, and special hazard warnings or instructions should be posted on all hoists conspicuously. Post the personnel load capacity for the current configuration of the gin pole within sight of the hoist operator.
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