Wireless carriers are rolling out 4G networks across the United States for the next three to five years. As we prepare for this busy period of tower construction, upgrades and buildouts, the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) is encouraging wireless carriers to recognize the critical role they play in reinforcing a culture of safety for the tower industry.
A buildout of this size means thousands of men and women working above the ground at heights of 300 feet and more. During the 2006 and 2007 3G build out, 28 tower technicians lost their lives, five of those in a short two-week period.
NATE is working hard to make tower companies safer and is encouraging carriers to join them in their efforts.
Responsibility for Safety on Tower Sites
Safety must be required from the top of an organization to the bottom and from a project’s beginning to completion. From the president of a company to the most junior worker on the crew, safety must be the center piece of every contract, project and task. Safety must be designed into every project, not added on. So if you’re reading this, chances are that you are responsible in some way for tower safety.
Carriers contracting tower work have iron-clad contracts that require contractors to attest to their ability to complete tower work. However, there are contractors in the industry who claim to be able to do the work, but have very little experience. The incentive is that in many cases, these contractors will work for pennies on the dollar. Carriers must protect themselves by ensuring that their on-site project managers are able to confirm the crews on site are qualified to perform the work contracted.
The Role of Wireless Carriers
Wireless carriers and organizations that own and operate wireless towers have an important role to play in the safety on tower sites, whether the tower is being erected, antennas are being installed or maintenance is being performed.
Responsible companies need to make sure their on-site mangers, project managers and site superintendents are aware of basic tower and construction safety standards and can readily recognize hazards on a work site. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound, or more, of cure, especially when it prevents an accident as serious as the ones that occur when you have employees working hundreds of feet off the ground.
It is critical that on-site personnel are familiar with the industry and terminology to prevent confusion in communication about safety and the work being performed. The on-site manger is first and sometimes the last line of defense for a carrier on its tower site, so carrier project managers or on-site personnel need to make sure they have the knowledge and are empowered to keep every work site safe.
Finally, wireless carriers need to ensure that owners and operators of equipment on a tower site understand that safety must not be compromised for the sake of deadlines or budgets. A single serious or catastrophic accident can be devastating for any carrier, tower owner, broadcaster or other industry organization, resulting in serious effects for crews, families and extensive costs for the company.
The Correlation Between Safety and a Quality Network
Carriers should ask themselves another question about unsafe contractors. If a contractor is willing to ignore best practices for safety or push employees beyond their capabilities to win a contract from a carrier, where else will he cut corners? Remember, safety leads to quality.
Responsible contractors stay safe by putting programs in place to train and protect their work force. These contractors also take the time to ensure their employees know the correct way to install antennas, install cables and perform other tower construction and service tasks. If a contractor is cutting corners on safety, it’s a safe bet he’s cutting corners on proper installation and equipment handling too.
Short term, a carrier’s system may be operable, but long term the system performs poorly or has a greatly reduced service life. Many qualified contractors have a portion of their work repairing installations done by a company that, while the lowest bidder, may not pay attention to details and do the job correctly.
As your company is preparing to roll out 4G services this year, consider this – ensuring that work is always performed safely for your company may prevent these associated costs and effects:
|•||Employee injuries or fatalities;|
|•||Costs of emergency response, medical costs, investigations, necessary re-training, review of procedures and procedural adjustments, potential regulatory fines, civil litigation and attorney fees;|
|•||Collapse of towers and or antennas;|
|•||Poor signal quality from improperly installed equipment;|
|•||Repairs due to poor work practices;|
|•||Equipment failures from mishandling or contractor damage;|
|•||Shortened equipment/facilities lifecycle and/or premature failure; and|
|•||Loss of customer base due to poor service.|
Don Doty is co-founder of Doty Moore Tower Services LLC and former chairman of the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE), where he served on the Board of Directors for 13 years.
Filed Under: Infrastructure