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Black & Veatch Leads Rally for Safer Telecom Standards and Training

Safety incidents in the telecommunications industry have taken a sharp increase over the past 18 months. Injuries and fatalities are rising dramatically, and Black & Veatch is using its influence as a leader in this segment to drive a turnaround. 

John Johnson, Vice President of Environmental, Safety, Health and Security at Black & Veatch, said there are three key factors leading to increased safety incidents in the telecommunications industry: 1) need for improvements in the proper skills and competencies by workers, 2) increased training on safe construction processes, and 3) increased demand and time urgency for the work to be completed. 

“Statistically speaking, fatalities in the industry rose dramatically in 2013, and they are continuing in 2014,” Johnson said. “The industry has also experienced some tower collapses.”

Black & Veatch is the leader in the telecommunications industry for engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) work, and has been rated No. 1 for the past five years by Engineering News-Record. Through its wholly owned construction subsidiary Overland Contracting Inc., Black & Veatch employs a substantial number of craft workers and tower climbers for the EPC work, yet a large portion of the overall workload is supplemented with personnel from other entities due to the vast demand. 

“Internally, we’re not going to fix the problem,” Johnson said. “We had to think bigger than that.” 

That has led to a strategic partnership with the National Association of Tower Erectors. NATE is composed of tower owners, carriers, general contractors, and construction and engineering companies.

NATE and Black & Veatch combined resources to put together a symposium to discuss the urgency of the matter. The first meeting drew more than 60 representatives from all the major players in the industry. Two key committees were formed as working groups to tackle separate issues. The first group is focused on developing specific safety standards that the industry as a whole could adopt, while the second group is examining the need for improved training and competencies for tower climbers and technicians. 


Developing Industry Safety Standards

The safety standards committee is headed up by Eric Munsell, Black & Veatch Environmental, Safety Health and Security Manager. Munsell said the committee is putting together a high-level checklist that all participating companies can agree to in order to bring a safer level of standardization to the industry. That committee is also developing program content for participants, such as best practices documents that can be shared. 

He acknowledged that companies have different safety standards, and a subcontractor working for one company will have to comply with one set, and when working for a different company, have to implement different standards.  

“We have to determine what we can all agree on as common standards and then put those standardizations in place,” Munsell said. “The industry players have all reacted very well to these initiatives. Safety is not a competitive issue – we all want to find a way to make our industry safer. There is a willingness to share more than ever before.”  

Some of the issues discussed include fall protection standards, enforcement of 100 percent tie-off compliance, drug testing and thorough background checks.  

Implementing Competencies and Safety Training

The second committee, focused on training and competencies, is headed by Sonya Roshek, Vice President, Construction, Black & Veatch. Working along with the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), the committee has completed work on a document that defines the five levels of tower site technicians, and what specific skills are required for each level. 

“This provides a model to rate the competency of any individual climber,” Roshek said. “This is the first time the industry has emphasized a comprehensive list of all the skills and safety training each level needs – whether they are a ground technician, climber or foreman – and then provide evidence they have been certified in these areas.” 

Roshek said the committee envisions a time when all site workers would carry cards similar to journeyman electricians that could be scanned and provide a training summary. Black & Veatch is testing a program that would allow a supervisor to scan a professional’s card with a QR code scanner from their smart phone app, which would then present that worker’s complete training, safety certification and record. 

“That’s our end goal,” she said. “This would make an impact on the industry. It gives us a means and method of ensuring skills, training, safety and competencies.”    

Keeping Up with Technology

Munsell said telecom is one of the fastest moving industries in the world, as technology continually improves. “Some equipment that we put on towers three, four or five years ago is now obsolete. We have to take it down and put up new equipment.”

This new equipment is often bigger and heavier than what it is replacing, meaning it may be more difficult to work with and may requiring reinforcing of the tower to make sure it can withstand the additional loading.   

In addition to setting up industry standards with NATE, Munsell is chairing a committee with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). “The subcommittee, designated A10-48, is developing industry standards for telecom,” Munsell said. “We’re doing this in-step with NATE.” 

Through this extensive work on safety standards and worker training, Johnson said that Black & Veatch and others can influence the industry and make a dramatic impact of safety standards across the country. Johnson said that it takes all players to make the change.

“We have to raise the bar,” Johnson said. “We need contracts that spell out specific NATE standards, ANSI A10-48 standards or NCCER competencies, then work hard to enforce these standards. That is the only way we can change the industry for the good.”

He said the industry must always keep its focus on safety. 

“It is vitally important that all workers go back to their homes and families safely each day. We can’t tolerate the injuries and fatalities in our industry, and as leaders in telecom and EPC, we’re determined to make a change.”


Subject Matter Experts
John Johnson: JohnsonJH@bv.com
Sonya Roshek: RoshekSK@bv.com
Eric Munsell: MunsellEJ@bv.com


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