Annual tower show features exhibits, seminars
One has to wonder whether most of the members of the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) played with Legos and Spider-man toys as children, because today they build and climb some of the largest structures in the world.
NATE, founded in 1995, will host its Eighth Annual Conference and Exposition at the Adam's Mark Hotel in Dallas Feb. 18-21. It expects approximately 1,600 attendees from its 600 member companies and interested manufacturers, along with 125 exhibitors.
"We do this for four main purposes," said Patrick Howey, NATE's chief administrator. "The board of directors and committees meet to conduct official business; we provide conferences, education sessions and seminars on tower-related subjects and safety issues; a trade show allows our members to see the latest products and innovations; and the event provides for outstanding networking opportunities."
NATE prides itself on raising the bar for safety in the tower-erector industry. In 2002 the association released the third edition of its "Accident Prevention, Safety and Health Program Guide," which helps members save time and money by developing in-house safety programs; this offering attracts members by itself. NATE has also worked with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on safety practices and procedures, some of which OSHA now recognizes and employs. The association has also worked on compliance guidelines for RF radiation exposure, gin poles and industry hoists, and has worked with the Telecommunications Industry Association toward the release of EIA-222G, a standard for the structural analysis of towers.
"Many of the advances in safety equipment have come through the efforts of the NATE Safety and Education Committee," said NATE Chairman Craig Snyder, president and CEO of Sioux Falls Tower and Communications and a founding member of the association. "Tower climbers can now access towers using state-of-the-art personal protective equipment that was not available just five years ago."
A main draw of the show will be the seven educational sessions. One of the most important will be the OSHA/NIOSH panel, which will host several speakers covering an update on OSHA and NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) work in the tower industry, current issues, trends and case studies.
Last year, NATE began a partnership with OSHA on such issues and will soon wrap up the first year of a partner project in OSHA Region 5 (which includes Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois, Indian, Michigan and Wisconsin).
"Upon completion of the first year, we will review the data from that program," said Howey. "We anticipate the results will support expanding the program to the national level." The terms of the partnership had companies voluntarily abiding by certain safety practices. In return, OSHA focused on the main safety issues at work sites and did not cite companies for superficial violations.
The other sessions will cover "Crane Safety," "Focusing on Foundations-What You Don't See Will Hurt You," "Rigging Safety," "Fall Protection/Tower Rescue" and "Surviving or Thriving in Wireless Construction?"
TOWERS, JUST TOWERS
NATE's board of directors and regular membership will also meet and vote on association business and basic upkeep, motivational speaker Prof. David Litchford will make the keynote address at the General Session on Wednesday, Feb. 19 and the members will have daily opportunities for networking. But a chief draw will be the exhibit floor and its tight focus on this specialized niche of the telecommunications tower construction, service and maintenance industry.
"This trade show provides the most targeted audience for products and services in the tower erection, service and maintenance industry," said Howey. "This show is specifically for just one group: tower erectors. Manufacturers and vendors come back to us each year saying this is their best event, even though they attend some of the much larger industry trade shows."
"NATE is usually a very good show and I think there's going to be some more money going into it this year," observed Doug Woehler, the business development manager of Dialight Tower Lighting.
"I think we'll see a lot of installers on the floor looking for a new path to market for their product due to the drastic slowdown in the cellular build out," said David Davies, structural engineering manager at ERI, who believes that there will be plenty of interest in the company's gin pole product line.
NATE, however, faces more than its share of difficult issues including local zoning regulations that limit the height of new towers; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service performing tower "bird-kill" studies, an issue environmentalists are raising against tower construction; the FCC's recent fines against broadcasters and cellular tower operators for exceeding RF radiation limits; and the business opportunities in the upgrading of towers for the DTV transition.
According to Snyder, one of the most important subjects, because it concerns deaths on tower sites, is that tower customers are using contractors who hire unqualified companies to perform work on towers. "Often these smaller companies are not members of NATE and they do not use safe practices in performing the required work," he said. "Most of the fatal accidents that made the news last year can be traced to this phenomenon."
Snyder hopes that customers will get a better understanding of who is working on their towers and require certain safety standards, which will decrease the number of accidents.
"It is our job to raise the bar for safety in this industry, and we feel the best way to do that is to get all tower service companies involved in the association," he said.
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