Lifting Safety to new heights
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Lifting Safety to new heights

Why is health and safety at a low level of maturity in telecom towers? And what’s being done to change it?

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When I walk into TowerXchange’s London office on a cold February morning I’m greeted by my guests in our reception area. They’re early, and while they sort out their security cards we have some time to catch up on their trip to London, where it fits into their European tour of meeting towercos and other telecoms service providers. We also have time to swap a few brief stories on travel experiences peering over a small map of subsea cables that sits on a desk outside the room we’ll be meeting in.

Andrew has been all around Europem Asia, Africa and Latin America, both in his current role and in a previous life covering health and safety for food manufacturing firms.

I learn from Gert, a tall and outdoorsy looking man who has a background in rock climbing that Lesotho, the small nation entirely surrounded by South Africa, is indeed the most mountainous country in the world. Of course, Gert loves it there.

The fourth member of our party is Barry, whom the majority of my interview will be conducted with. From the moment I meet Barry I can tell he’s a people person, I’m suffering with an early season round of hay fever and despite being slightly embarrassed that my antihistamine is yet to kick in, I feel put at ease by his understanding and compassion.

What we’re really here to talk about is an exciting project the three of them are playing a key role in.

Gert, Barry (Gravity) and Andrew (Nokia) are working with their partners at Helios Towers and Delmec to organise an event in Senegal that seeks to embed the importance of safety and working at height in the business processes of the worlds towercos and suppliers. You can find out more information on the event here.

We take our seats in the room.

TowerXchange: Please introduce yourselves and more importantly introduce lifting safety to new heights!

Andrew Eadie, Head of Health, Safety and Security, Nokia Mobile Networks: Lifting Safety to New Heights is an initiative spearheaded by Nokia, Delmec, Helios Towers and Gravity Training.

I have 25 years’ experience in operational safety in food manufacturing plants. Coming to Nokia, a blue chip company, I assumed there would be just as many procedures in place. But joining Nokia opened my eyes that relatively speaking the H&S maturity in telecoms is quite low compared to some other industries.

Upon joining Nokia, one of the key principles that I want to instil in our business, but also across the industry, is the idea of creating a level and even playing field for safety. This is one of the primary reasons for us working with our partners on launching Lifting Safety to New Heights.

I think it’s important to emphasise that even though this initiative is being led by Nokia, Delmec, Helios Towers and Gravity Training, it is really not about Nokia, or any of our partners, its about the industry as a whole and improving the working conditions of people on the ground.

Gert Forster, Founder, Gravity Training: I am the founder of Gravity Training and have a background in rock climbing. When I learnt about the risks being taken by some contractors installing equipment on towers, I was shocked and knew something had to be done. I’m fully aware of the risks that are involved in climbing with no safety equipment at the best of times, let alone when working with tools on heavy equipment. We are pleased to be a part of lifting safety to new heights as the official training provider.

Barry Lottering, Managing Director, Gravity Training: I work alongside Gert at Gravity Training. Lifting Safety to New Heights ultimately has two ambitions with the same goal, levelling the playing field across the industry and changing the hearts and minds of businesses and those on the ground, the “last mile guys person” as we sometimes call them. Essentially both goals feed into the same mission, to make sure more people can return home from work safely.

TowerXchange: What challenges are faced by the workforce that are installing towers and the equipment hosted on them?

Andrew Eadie, Head of Health, Safety and Security, Nokia Mobile Networks: Tower operators, whether they be MNOs or infrastructure companies, alongside their contractors are driven by the goal of expanding their network as quickly and efficiently as possible. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but unfortunately it means that at times certain shortcuts are taken, it needs to be done quickly, efficiently and safely.

Barry Lottering, Managing Director, Gravity Training: Rigging equipment and a lack of safety equipment when working at height is a particular concern. Risks are taken to either get the job done quicker, or simply because there is a lack of awareness or availability of safety equipment. Unfortunately, accidents are far more common than they should be. We are aware ourselves of 28 fatalities between 2018 - 2022 globally, but the actual number is likely to be much higher.

Andrew Eadie, Head of Health, Safety and Security, Nokia: Speaking with workers on the ground, they told us that at least 30% and up to as much as 80% of the time, they see others (never from their own teams or companies) working at the top of towers without safety equipment or not using safety equipment whatsoever.

Barry Lottering, Managing Director, Gravity Training: I was recently on a site visit recently and asked ten people if they had ever seen anyone fall. Two of them said yes.

We think these issues would strike action with companies if there was a transparency on reporting around them. Right now there isn’t much sharing. Our hope is that if companies look at this data overall, a clearer picture of the risks will emerge, and more action will be taken.

Andrew Eadie, Head of Health, Safety and Security, Nokia: Furthermore, when telecom tower infrastructure was created by MNOs for 2G technology, we lived in a very different world to the one we live in today. Equipment installed was smaller, lighter and the towers themselves were designed for single tenancies.

As 3G, 4G and now 5G technology is being rolled out, and as towers are sold to infrastructure companies and opened up to multiple tenants, those same towers are now home to a far greater number and far heavier equipment.

While a single 2G or 3G antenna would weigh around 20-30kg it is not uncommon now for 4G antennas to weigh in the 350-500kg range, factoring in about 70 - 120kgs per module with an RRU (remote radio unit). While they would previously be assembled on the tower, they are now often delivered to the site and hoisted into place all at one time. The cables and ropes that can put a huge amount of loading on the tower. If this is not done correctly, it could cause the structure to fall. This is of course a concern for the tower owner and the tenant operating from the tower, but it is a far greater concern to us that this leads to significant risk of injury for those working on the site and in the local area

TowerXchange: How is lifting safety to new heights trying to change this?

Barry Lottering, Managing Director, Gravity Training: As we mentioned, we want to help MNOs, towercos, equipment providers and those installing the equipment to change their philosophy towards health and safety and make sure that they have robust procedures in place.

The LSNH team started with the concept of “Making the complex simple”, meaning that we use our current safe operating procedures and reinventing them to accommodate the demands of the telecoms sector. When we started looking at making the complex simple, we focued on these 3 key principles “Quality, Efficiency and Safety”

This is only possible if we are able to get buy in from across the industry and change the hearts and minds of those on the ground and in management positions. Often in many countries there is limited regulation to help. Regulation and guidelines can only go so far if the reasons behind them do not flow down to an individual site.

Telecoms is in a unique position when it comes to enforcing health and safety compared to other industries. A mine or factory is a controlled environment with a smaller geographic footprint in the sense that you have oversight of what the employees are doing and whether they are following the guidelines put in place.

Due to the fieldwork nature of telecom towers, this level of oversight is impossible, which makes embedding safety and having vigorous protocols in place even more important.

One significant challenge we face is that the cost of H&S is often not included in a build to suit projects budget, or in the costs of the contractor that will be doing the work. This is something that we are trying to change by discussing this at the CEO level of organisations, ensuring the issue has the most attention possible throughout the business.

Another issue is that some businesses do not have access to a H&S resource that can help and support. In extreme cases, this responsibility is sometimes left to a company front desk secretary that doesn’t have the time, resources or knowledge to make sure that real change or proper procedures are implemented throughout the organisation. We want to Lift Safety to New Heights, raise the importance of safety and make sure it is appropriately allocated to a person or team within a company, and at the same time, “make the Complex” simple

TowerXchange: How can a towerco make sure Health and Safety is a priority?

Barry Lottering, Managing Director, Gravity Training: 

 We’d probably point towards Helios Towers as a great example of a towerco that has embedded a culture of safety. In our opinion, its best for this function to work closely with the operations team , which is exactly what Helios Towers have done.

Helios Towers have also made strides within their own organisation to overcome the lack of budget allocated towards safety from some of their suppliers. They purchased rigging equipment and other safety tools that the workers need to perform their installations and maintenance safely and keep this in a central warehouse that can be accessed by the teams before their site visits.

They also pay for the training of their subcontractor’s workforce if no training is being provided. The key to this is widespread change throughout the industry, so while Helios are setting a good example, we would love to see this level of ownership extended further. Nokia also has a similar culture regarding the safety of their workers; culture starts with CEO buy in.

TowerXchange: Tell us more about your event in Senegal

Andrew Eadie, Head of Health, Safety and Security, Nokia: We’ll be gathering towercos, MNOs, and contractors together for two days of discussions and practical training on health and safety. The aim of such an event, is to Lift Safety to New Heights within the telecoms industry with a specific focus for the African continent.

The most important aspect is the change that follows from participating in the event, as an outflow of the of interaction of all the attendees, enforcing an inclusive, supportive, and ongoing collaborative environment.

Over two days, key speakers will share solutions on how to “Lift Safety to New Heights” and we’ll show practical demonstrations of how mechanical rigging & lifting, driver monitoring, drone inspections, virtual reality, and the role of the team leader is driving the innovation that companies need to thrive. All of this, while focusing on the “hearts and minds” mission to ensure the takeaways are not just theoretical but are followed by everyone.

Click here for more information on how you can join Lifting Safety to new heights next event.

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