Every activity carries its own risks, but at the work place, the employer is responsible for keeping workers safe. While some tasks are more risky than others, such as climbing towers, there are ways to minimize these risks. Sometimes that entails attending a class, reading a book or just using the right equipment. But the best way is to always be aware of your surroundings and to take the time to be safe. Following are some safety tips that apply to the broadcast industry.
While you can learn tower safety from the veterans, the best way is to attend a tower climbing safety class. There are many such classes, as well as rescue classes, offered around the country that will help to keep you safe, that is, if you follow the guidelines they give you. The classes usually take from one to three days, and some offer certification. While there is no government-issued license or certification, these schools offers their own, so the school must be recognized as being qualified to train personnel in this field. Check to see if the school you pick is recognized by or affiliated with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE, which offers an excellent book on tower climbing safety on its website) or the FCC. Many tower sites will require you to have a certification from a recognized school before they allow you to climb.
The main point is that people must use what they have learned. All the training in the world won’t matter if it’s not applied. Compared with the past, tower climbing is much safer today with all the safety equipment and training offered, but deaths still occur; there have been eight so far this year. Once on a tower, a climber’s safety is up to him.
Safety on the ground
Just working on the ground can be hazardous if you don’t take precautions. While working in a room full of waveguides and combiners, I had to lower my head to pass under a transmission line. It was the fifth and final time of the day, but I missed this time and walked right into a flange. Five staples and a $3000 emergency room bill later, I learned my lesson. I now wear a hard hat, and not the usual one; this is a Petzl with a chinstrap, the kind they use for tower work and rock climbing. It stays securely on my head and still allows me to access confined spaces. (See Figure 1.)
It’s situations like the one above that warrant the use of hard hats on the job. It won’t protect you from a heavy object falling, but it will keep you from getting your head banged up. Even climbing a 6ft ladder you can run right into a sprinkler head. Without a hard hat, that bump might cause you to lose your balance. OSHA calls for fall protection at any height above 4ft, and that’s about how high you can go on a 6ft ladder, if you don’t use the top two steps.
Anytime you’re going into a confined space or going up any ladder, it’s best to wear a hard hat and gloves. Those gloves will let you hang on longer and tighter if you need to grab a handhold, rope or anything else to keep you from falling. These all sound like common sense ideas, and they are, but too many of us don’t always follow our common sense and wind up getting hurt.
Safety starts with an attitude, a mind set. Are you going to follow what you have learned from school and experience as well as stories told by the veterans? Are you feeling up to the task, whether it’s climbing or working around machinery? Are you wearing the proper clothes for the job, including work boots?
A buddy can be the best safety equipment anyone can have. Someone to let you know you are bleeding or even hurt, especially when we may be in shock and not realize we are injured. You should try to not work alone, and, if you’re back in the shop, that someone looks in on you from time to time. Too many of us work up at the transmitter by ourselves. It also helps if your buddy knows first aid and can keep his head in an emergency.
While on this topic, everyone should attend a first aid and CPR class such as those offered by the Red Cross. In this day and age, there really is no excuse for not knowing the basics that can save someone’s life. Many employers will either pay for the training or hold classes on the job.
Also, don’t forget the first aid kit. This is not just a box of Band-Aids, but the industrial type designed for more major injuries. Some companies offer a service where they will come out on a regular basis to resupply the kit to keep it full and up to date. Too many times we find we used the last Band-Aid the last time we opened the kit. (See Figure 2.)
Does your place of work have an automatic external defibrillator? They can get someone’s heart beating again and are designed for anyone to use. Not only that, they are designed to speak to you, telling you what to do, and will only shock the person if all conditions are correct. They don’t require training, but it’s best to attend a class or watch a video on their operation so you’ll know how to use it should the need arise.
OSHA requires personal protection equipment to be supplied by employers for their workers (OSHA fact sheet). Personal protection equipment covers all types of safety and protection equipment. Every shop should have a supply of safety equipment that might be needed for the types of jobs they carry out. In a typical shop for a TV station, that would include a hard hat, gloves, goggles or other eye protection, hearing protection (a supply of new, clean ear buds) and knee pads (the necessity of which you know if you’ve ever put your knee on a screw that’s on a concrete floor).
Working at heights
When going up higher than 4ft, personal fall arrest systems should always be used according to OSHA standards. That might not seem very high, but the human skull is not that hard.
Also in the broadcast field, RF exposure is another factor in tower climbing. Personal RF monitors are available that will alert you to a potentially hazardous situation. The use of a lockout for RF switching is a must, as is taking local control on the transmitter remote, to keep someone at the studio from turning the RF power back on while someone’s on the tower. You also can have an RF survey made that will let you know where and how far a climber can go on your tower with the transmitter on. On some towers, a worker will climb above the inactive auxiliary antenna and then have the station switch off the main antenna and switch on the auxiliary antenna below them, thus keeping the station on the air and allowing the climber to work on or near the main antenna while keeping them out of an active RF field.
When working on towers, communication is vital, and having a ground crew (even if it’s just one person) is very important to the climber’s safety. Having a reliable set of radios and a way to attach the radio to the climber’s clothing is integral. Some outdoor work clothes have a special bib pocket to allow the attachment of a radio so it’s close at hand.
A body harness is used to provide places of attachment to support you either while working or to catch you if you should fall. It’s important that the harness fits correctly for two reasons. First, you may be suspended by this harness for extended periods of time, and you don’t want it to cut off blood flow. Second, during a fall it will pull up tight on your body to absorb your weight plus any g-forces accumulated. Since 1998, OSHA requires a body harness, and belts alone do not meet this requirement. (See Figure 3.) The main attachment point is in front at the chest. This allows you access to attach or remove lines as required, and it distributes your weight correctly over the harness. A second and important attachment point is on the back. This is used for fall-arrest equipment and is what catches you if you fall.
Anchorages are points of attachment on the structure for both tie-offs and fall-arrest devices. OSHA has specific rules about anchorages, their capabilities and strength. When working at heights, you must be attached at two different anchorage points in case one fails or comes loose. The two D-rings at the hips of a safety harness are used to position yourself while working, not to support your weight. They are also used to hold tools and other equipment needed for the job.
OSHA also has strict rules concerning the connectors used for attaching tie-offs and fall-arrest systems; this covers both D-rings and snaphooks. They must have a minimum tensile strength of 5000lbs and be used in the proper way. Carabineers are also useful while working. Even if it’s just to hoist a pail, be careful: Never use the cheap ones used for key chains. Those designed for safety purposes use a locking mechanism to keep it closed and are rated to hold at least 5000lbs. The cheap ones can come apart and drop you or something on your head if they break. (See Figure 4.)
Ropes and webbing are crucial to all climbs and lifts; they should be inspected on a regular basis. Any fraying or signs of wearing must be addressed, and the ropes most likely will have to be replaced. Hoisting anything that does not have its own lifting points requires straps to hold it, and these too must be inspected and arranged so the load won’t shift and fall. If you are working with a crane or hoist, it’s a good idea to get some training. (See Figure 5.)
It all comes down to the person doing the work taking responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others working around them. When you see something that does not look safe or if you’re not sure how to carry out a particular task safely let management know. Just because something has “always been done that way” does not mean it’s safe. Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to see something that can potentially go wrong.