Safety: The Never-Ending Story
The July 2012 issue of OSP® magazine used a stock photo with my column; from a field technician’s aspect that photo had several safety violations. One reader wrote to me and summed up the violations: “No eye protection, no gloves, and the tech is working off of the top two rungs of the ladder. It appears he would have had to use the top rung for footing to position his safety strap over the strand, around the pole and back to his body belt -- not the recommended use of the top portion of any ladder.”
First, it’s good to know my columns are being read! Second, I decided it’s time to write a column on safety in the outside plant. I will begin saying that the best comment on safety practices came from my old boomer line foreman.
When I started in the telephone business, I worked for Northwestern Bell Telephone Company that was part of the old AT&T. Safety was beaten into us. Most of us started on the line crew with an autocratic boomer line foreman. He was with us every minute of every day. We put our hard hats and safety glasses on at 8:00 A.M. and took them off only when we quit for the day. Long-sleeve shirts were worn no matter how hot it got.
Rubber gloves, rubber blankets, belts and hooks, the first aid kit, and the “B” voltage tester were inspected every morning before we went to work. We were taught how to safely set up a work site for our protection and protection of the public. We were taught all aspects of manhole safety and working aloft. Everything had better be in order just in case the safety supervisor showed up.
We were sent to climbing school, stress and strain school, first aid school, and driving school. We had a complete set of safety practices that we read during inclement weather. We were notified by management the next morning of any accident by any employee anywhere in the old Bell System, and the accident was reviewed and preventive measures were discussed.
As I progressed from the line crew to cable splicing to cable maintenance, safety for each specific task was drilled into my fellow workers and me.
Since I have been in the business, most Telcos have done a tremendous job of providing protective safety equipment and the proper training on how to use it. Many employ a safety supervisor who enforces safety practices and checks out technician’s safety equipment. The safety supervisor is also the go-to guy for any safety issue, and he is required to have knowledge about city, county, state, and federal government mandatory safety requirements.
Often taken for granted, these relatively inexpensive items have saved many, many lives and lessened the severity of injury.
While these common safety items may be taken for granted, they are, like seatbelts, used automatically. It’s rare to see a tech without this equipment. However, equipment to protect us from electrical hazards may often sit in the truck unused, or not be used when needed.
Again, inexpensive yet critical, rubber safety gloves can protect from life-threatening electrical shock. Hazardous electrical conditions are identified with a quality voltage tester -- and it is the most underused safety item on the truck.
Telephone companies and distribution power companies use the same ground, and any difference of potential can lead to electrocution. This is where another very important piece of safety equipment comes into play: knowledge and training.
I make field visits in my training sessions and all too often I see improper or no bonding or grounding, especially in older aerial distribution plant. The old ready access terminals have the shield pulled out of the bonding apparatus. When this is identified in the field, the technician is not to do wire work until the bonds are fixed or a temporary bond is placed across the splice.
Learning proper bonding and grounding is critical for all aspects of the plant from the Central Office or the remote to the customer’s network interface. In almost every training class that I teach, a field technician will relate to the class his close call with high voltage.
My recommendation is: “Until they color electricity so that you can see it, use that voltage detector.” Use the voltage detector at every Network Interface, pedestal, terminal, and aerial strand just to be safe.
This is not a complete list of typical safety codes but a look at several critical areas to ensure that employees will not get injured. The communications business is a high-risk business whether in the air, on the ground, or in a manhole. So, be safe.
Sharing safety tips can save a person’s life or at least prevent injury, so if you have a tip to share, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org or 831.818.3930. As always, thank you for reading and for sharing your observations.