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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.

LBA has long been concerned with radio frequency hazards and safe work practices around tower and antenna sites. Indeed, we offer convenient, economical on-line training at http://www.lbagroup.com/associates/rftraining.php. However, we offer here a brief overview of some other safety concerns.

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.

Learn OSHA tower & rooftop RF, outdoor, and environmental hazards

Towers and Rooftops Present Diverse Working Hazards

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. Check it out here, or contact Byron Johnson at 252-757-0279 or Byron.johnson@lbagroup.com to sign up.

7 Comments on "Hazard Thoughts for Tower Professionals"

  1. Julia Clark October 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm · Reply

    Interesting, I think you missed a few that we would train on….
    Hostile locals, Legionella, Bird Poo, Rats Urine, slips and trips, pirate radio which in turn often leaves electrical hazards (pirates like to steal their electricity and don’t tend to do it in a very safe manner) but maybe these aren’t an issue in the USA.

    ln

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  2. Lawrence Behr October 9, 2012 at 12:24 pm · Reply

    I like the pirate radio hazard! That doesn’t tend to be a problem in the States, but I have often seen electricity theft in third world countries – with some very unsafe “wiring”. An electrical hazard here sometimes comes about when people lose power in hurricanes or other storms and hook up generators to home power sockets, back-feeding parts of the local grid!

    Anyone have any other unusual outdoor hazards? Who has had an “unreal” outdoor safety experience?

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  3. Lawrence Behr October 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm · Reply

    Years ago, I was on a radio site project in Brainerd, MN. We were working at night and It was 40 below. So cold the trees would occasionally explode like gunshots! A warm bed never felt so good.

    LBA University has a new outdoor worker online training which is oriented to cell site workers and deals with cold weather operations, among other major hazards. You can check it out at http://www.lbagroup.com/associates/outdoor-hazards-osha-safety-training.php.

    (From Linked-In Tower Climbers)

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  4. Andrew Tejero October 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm · Reply

    I work in northern alberta, this will be my first winter climbing. From what the other guys tell me the best thing to do is carry three pairs of gloves (two tucked into your jacket so they stay warm), a good facemask or toque and a few packs of those little handwarmers.

    I’ll let you guys know how it goes… The weather up here can be in the -40 c with windchill regularly. :(

    (From Linked-In Tower Climbers)

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  5. Michael MacDougall October 19, 2012 at 1:49 pm · Reply

    -54…Thompson MB. Three days straight of just frigid weather. Unusual for mid-December. Lots of layers and a good down filled parka (tough enough to handle the usual hazards found in most tower climb environ’s. Best advice still remains to keep your back to the wind, and buy a couple head-warmers (fleece are ok).

    (From Linked-In Tower Climbers)

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  6. W Dean Stoner October 19, 2012 at 1:50 pm · Reply

    Keeping my head, hands, and feet dry, before climbing up. There were times when we would do some assembly work on the ground, the day before, or maybe the day we would climb, and it would be wet & muddy. I had the yellow mud boots to go over my climbing boots-but I also kept a pair of boots only for climbing too… Gloves, I can’t tell you how many different styles and makes of gloves. Leather seemed to last longer, and were durable as an outer glove but once it gets wet, they are now no good.

    (From Linked-In Tower Climbers)

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  7. Trevor McWilliams October 23, 2012 at 11:19 am · Reply

    Bring extra gear, especially gloves and headwear as these are most likely to get wet and cause horrible chills. -45 on the mercury was the coldest I have ever climbed and even a 5 MPH wind in that is brutal especially at 190′. Glove liners are a must considering your first reaction is to remove your gloves to work on whatever you need to. Liner gloves will at least eliminate contact frostbite. Most guys up here like Bunny Boots in the winter but I can’t stand those myself. My arctic loadout for extreme cold is underarmor arctic baselayer, jeans and polar fleece mid layer, Carhartt overalls and jacket (or one piece if I’m climbing) Chaos facemask and skullie, smartwool neck gaiter, refrigiwear gloves, manzella liners, Whites Lineman Pac boots with 15mm liners, wool socks and extra handwarmers. That usually does well in the extreme Alaska environment. Typical working gear is a little less, compression baselayers get you to -20 comfortably and doing ground work burns through gloves so bring extra pairs.

    ln

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