NATE's Todd Schlekeway Talks Communications Tower Safety

ASSE's Professional Safety recently spoke with Todd Schlekeway, executive executive director of National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE), about the newly released ANSI/ASSE A10.48-2016 standard on communications tower safety. Here's an edited version of the interview.

PS: How do you envision ANSI/ASSE A10.48-2016, Criteria for Safety Practices With the Construction, Demolition, Modification and Maintenance of Communications Structures, being utilized from a regulatory compliance and performance standpoint? 

Todd: A10.48 is a consensus standard, which means stakeholders from a diverse group of companies and organizations came together to compile the industry’s best practices into a standardized format. The information was then reviewed, debated and selected based on best practices. The standard represents a comprehensive effort that places all of the communication tower processes, procedures and protocols in one location. It will make it much easier for companies on all links of the contractor chain to find the best practice information that affects daily work at a tower site. The standard will provide a road map for companies to adhere to from a construction, maintenance and utilization standpoint.

Besides becoming an indispensable resource for tower contractors, it will also describe to OSHA what contractors are adhering to from a worker safety and quality standpoint. NATE hopes that OSHA will adopt the A10.48 standard to simplify its understanding of the tower industry. NATE is opening that door of opportunity now with its counterparts in the federal government. NATE believes A10.48 will be the single best source for the entire industry.

PS: One issue with tower construction and demolition is contractor management and performance. When and how will A10.48 affect contractor safety practices?  

Todd: NATE has a great relationship with the QuEST Forum, an organization known for its ability to benchmark quality practices to existing standards. ANSI/ASSE A10.48 will allow NATE and the industry at large to benchmark and track key performance indicators (KPIs) that will ultimately allow individual companies to compare their performance to other companies. 

For example, NATE currently tracks certain performance indicators through its STAR Initiative program. This program gathers site safety audit data from participating member companies on a quarterly basis each year. Over time, I could envision a scenario where elements of A10.48 are included in the audit documentation requirements. This process of benchmarking performance throughout the industry will take time to allow for reporting based on the new standard’s adoption.

PS: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the A10.48 standard?  

Todd: The strengths of this standard are numerous. It outlines many construction and maintenance activities that have never been described before. The only weakness from my vantage point is that some people in the industry might not utilize it as a primary tool in their daily work activities. Only time will tell how quickly we can change attitudes from “this is the way we always did before” to “this new A10.48 standard makes perfect sense.”

PS: One concern in developing the standard was the issue of “riding the line.” What are your thoughts on this specific application and why it is permissible for tower-related work. 

Todd: NATE has worked hard to educate OSHA officials and industry stakeholders on the benefits associated with riding the line or “personnel hoisting to and from the workstation” when working on a communications structure. Hoisting personnel to and from the workstation has been described and accepted by OSHA since 1999. The latest version was issued July 17, 2014 and is known as CPL 02-01-056 Inspection Procedures for Accessing Communication Towers by Hoist.

The practice of hoisting personnel is extremely important to NATE from a safety, quality and efficiency standpoint. Personnel hoisting reduces the amount of repetitive climbing stress that is placed on tower technicians who work at elevation. This practice also allows workers to conduct their tower construction and maintenance activities more efficiently. 

Here's the analogy I like to use: Imagine your office was on the 50th floor of a high-rise building. What if your building had no elevators and you had to walk up and down the stairs three to five times per day? Now, imagine that walk with approximately 50 lb of equipment and tools on your back. This hypothetical scenario would not be conducive to working safely or efficiently. Our industry is proud of the fact that there has never been a documented case of an injury or fatality when the personnel hoisting procedures were properly followed.

PS: Will the standard change how the tower industry addresses fall protection and restraint issues? 

Todd: Falls continue to be the most significant worker hazard that confronts the industry’s elevated workforce. While the correct processes and procedures for fall protection and rescue compliance are well known, the A10.48 standard will provide an accessible road map for both the employer and the on-site crew leader to follow to ensure fall protection compliance. The goal is zero incidents and injuries. A good first step is reading, following and breathing the new A10.48 on a daily basis.

PS: Will the standard work with other voluntary national consensus standards that address maintenance-related issues? 

Todd: A large percentage of the work performed on communication structures is maintenance related, so it is vital that maintenance activities are part of the equation. A10.48 is part of the A10 series so it presents a great opportunity to understand how the standards work in conjunction. The committee worked to incorporate, by reference, other standards that address well-established industry best practices.

In CPL 01-02-056 (the latest directive), OSHA combined maintenance and construction activities. There is no better illustration of industry working with regulators to create common-sense compliance initiatives. Communication towers provided just the right landscape for OSHA to look at the industry best practices for construction and maintenance and realize that combining previously separated activities made sense. OSHA may find other industries soon follow NATE’s example to help regulators do their job better.

CommTowers_33852114PS: Any final thoughts or ideas about the use and implementation of the standard?

Todd: ANSI/ASSE A10.48 is an industry game changer. NATE and National Wireless Safety Alliance plan to develop an unprecedented outreach program to bring awareness and establish it as the definitive resource for the entire supply chain. Carriers, broadcasters, vertical real estate companies, general contracting firms, insurance companies, tower contractors and consultants will all benefit from this new standard. 

The standard is now​ available from ASSE. Visit the Society's A10 standards web page for full details.


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