Hazard Thoughts for Tower Professionals

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For tower professionals and those that work in the broadcast and wireless industries, safety is paramount. While RF safety awareness is an important aspect of any hazard assessment, all professionals need to be mindful of all the other possible risks attached to the job. Working on towers is often regarded as the most dangerous job in America, and the statistics for fatal accidents don’t make pleasant reading. Therefore, safe working practice to eliminate the risk of injury or death has to be at the forefront of everybody’s mind in an industry fraught with danger. However, when it comes to analyzing potential hazards, there is no single one-size-fits-all assessment plan.

While certain risks may exist on one job, another site may pose completely different hazards, so for any professional working on towers, masts and antennas, assessing hazards has to be done on a site-by-site basis. That being said, certain risks tend to exist at nearly every site, and because workers in the profession face them on a daily basis, it can be all too easy to forget just how potent these hazards are. The result is that even the most experienced professional takes unnecessary risks every now and again, which can lead to avoidable accidents, so it always worth reassessing the common problems faced by tower and antenna engineers.

Working at height
The most obvious risk people working in the tower and antenna world face are the daily climbs. Whether its 50 feet or 500 feet the consequences of a fall can be the same, and every height has to be respected equally. Quite a few tower professionals will admit to having taken a chance while working at height during some point in their career, but in doing so they are risking their lives.

When a climb looks easy, or it is getting late in the day, it can be tempting to take short cuts. However, the job is dangerous enough without adding unnecessary risks into the equation, so properly assessing each tower before you climb and following OSHA or local safety procedures is vital to prevent becoming an unfortunate addition to the statistics.

Rooftop hazards
Many antennas, especially those in the cell phone industry, are these days located on top of roofs and other structures, and these can pose less obvious hazards for anybody tasked with repair or maintenance. Apart from the various trip hazards caused by rooftop furniture, such as air vents, a less visible and more sinister threat can be present, especially on older buildings.

Despite the Environment Protection Agency’s 1989 Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule, asbestos could still be present on some older buildings. This is because, before the health risks and the associations with lung cancer was realized in the early 1980s, asbestos was used as insulation and fireproofing almost everywhere. While EPA rules mean than all roofing material should now be asbestos free, you cannot take for granted that the building you are working on has no asbestos. If there is a suspicion that asbestos could be present, and you are planning to disturb roofing material, extreme caution needs to be taken. Be sure that the EPA or a certified industrial asbestos removal company has done an appropriate survey. For modern buildings, constructed since 1989, there shouldn’t be a problem, but when in doubt, seek guidance.

Weather
The weather is one the most challenging aspects for working on towers and antennas. Not only is it unpleasant working in the bitter cold, pouring rain, or baking sunshine, but also the weather can lead to accidents and injury. The most obvious threat posed by weather systems to anybody working at height is of course lightning. Nobody wants to be up an antenna or tower when a thunderstorm hits. While the tower may be protected by a lightning dissipation system, somebody working on the tower won’t be protected from stray, potentially lethal, discharges. Being on a tall object means the risk of a lightning strike is high. However, in some locations, the speed at which storm clouds can gather is easy to underestimate. A good rule of thumb is that if it looks like thunder, stay down. Be sure that your safety plan addresses this up front.

Torrential rain, extreme cold and even high levels of heat also pose risks. Rain can obviously make climbing surfaces slippery, while metal antennas in sub zero temperatures pose skin contact risk. In hot weather, burns are possible too, so when it is very cold or hot, check the temperature of the antenna or tower before ascension and always wear protection.

Heat and cold also pose life-threatening stress risks. It is important to know the symptoms of these conditions, and appropriate first aid for them.

Tiredness
Driving long distance is as much a part of the job as climbing. Several hours behind the wheel will often result in feelings of tiredness, so time should be taken when arriving on site to shrug off feelings of fatigue. Don’t risk climbing or working when feeling sleepy. Feeling tired can lead to mistakes, so if a journey has drained you, take time to have a coffee, stretch your legs, or even take a short nap if necessary. Furthermore, for anybody in such a physical job, it also helps to keep yourself in shape and take care of your overall health and fitness, which can reduce the risk of something untoward happening when up a tower, mast or antenna.

Training
In addition to the RF Awareness training mentioned earlier, LBA now offers comprehensive Outdoor Worker Awareness training with certificate, on-line. This training encompasses heat and cold stress; venomous snakes, plants, and spiders; U/V dangers; and other OSHA hazards tower specialists are likely to encounter outdoors.

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