OSHA Safety Stand Down – New 5G Safety Considerations
OSHA Safety Stand Down
May 3-7, 2021
New 5G Safety Considerations
5G is here and the build out is ramping up across the country, creating new opportunities for workers from many different industries to bid on the work.
This work could introduce a new set of hazards to workers that aren’t accustomed to. Telecom workers that typically climb towers may now be working out of a bucket truck. An electrician that is usually in an indoor utility closet or basement will now be working around RF. It is important for the people working on the build out to know how to recognize and navigate each hazard.
The three main hazards that we want to draw attention to in this article are: RF Safety Awareness, MEWP’s (Aerial Lifts), and Confined Space/Electrical Safety Hazards.
Radio Frequency, or RF, hazards from 5G have been highly publicized as the industry was planning to roll out this new technology.. A lot of this misinformation came from some extreme viewpoints without much or any data to support the arguments. Nevertheless, it did enough to cause unnecessary worry within some members of the population.
The truth is that due to the FCC requirements, the public is no more at risk from 5G than they would be from waiting for their leftovers to warm up in the microwave.
However the same can’t be said for contractors working at heights. With the sheer increase in the amount of antennas and the creative placement that network owners have had to take, there is a much higher risk for workers like HVAC and roofers that may now be working closer to these antennas than they would have 5-10 years ago. It’s important for anyone working at any type of height, around any transmitting device to have proper training on recognizing and navigating RF hazards and also when they may be possibly exposed, ensure they are using an Person RF Monitor. Even if there are not antennas on the same rooftop or jobsite that you’re actively on, in densely populated areas there may be concealed antennas one building or light pole away that you need to be aware of.
MEWP’s (Mobile Elevated Work Platforms), also known as Aerial lifts, are going to be one of the main pieces of equipment used to help with the installation of 5G equipment. The issue that comes from using MEWPs is often their simplicity and the ability to lull you into a false sense of security, especially for technicians that spend most of their days at 200 or more feet in the air.
Having proper training on the safe uses of the equipment will raise awareness of hazards like overhead power lines, the correct way to travel and also, one of the more overlooked hazards, traffic management.
Fall protection should always be considered and used properly when working on an MEWP. While it’s more rare for a worker to fall from a bucket truck than working in other situations like on a tower or pitched roof, it is more common that one could bounce out while operating and manipulating the positioning of the work platform, or if another vehicle hits the lift. While OSHA regulations for fall protection are not crystal clear when it comes to bucket trucks or lifts, once you get more than 6 feet off the ground, personal fall protection is mandated by OSHA’s construction industry standard 1926.501.
Confined Spaces/Electrical Safety
The last hazard that we are discussing in this article is electrical safety and working around confined spaces. The typical telecom technician is used to working in open spaces, whether it’s on a tower or on a rooftop. The most enclosed spaces they may be forced to work in would be the BTS facility on site.
Now with 5G, techs will face the challenge of working with much more detailed and compact electrical boards on each site, and with the need for concealment on the majority of the antennas, this creates a potential confined space environment prone to hazards like arch flash if the work is not done safely.
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