Dhananjay Joshi, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Summit Digitel

Safety isn’t expensive, it’s priceless. It ought to go without saying that every business should put employee health and safety at the top of their agenda. In addition to the obvious advantages of having a safe and secure environment when attracting and retaining employees, it benefits the business too. On the occasion of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work today, let us glance through the risks in the telecom industry and the steps that need to be taken to mitigate them.

Culture and safety in the Telecom industry

Tower erecting, telecom maintenance, and tower climbing is a highly hazardous profession, and the concept of a safety culture is vital in such businesses. The value of safety needs to be instilled at the management level in order for it to permeate throughout the organization. The prudent leader understands that strong safety and risk management programs are vital to ensuring that everyone is returning home safely each and every day.

In essence, this means establishing a culture that is dedicated to Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Performance (HSSE). It is absolutely essential for every company’s culture and values to be intertwined with a commitment to a Zero Harm philosophy in order for such a culture to be created and for safety to be inextricably woven into its everyday work activities.

Every company should have a well-planned approach to safety. To collect the information needed to assess the quality and efficacy of an organization’s safety and risk management systems, a detailed safety program and risk assessments are necessary. Accident investigation and injury management programs, lagging indicators, appointment practices, management, theoretical and practical training programs, safety observation and audit plans, work area safety practices, and transit safety plans are some of the main organizations’ safety techniques. There should be a special focus on high-risk tasks. This is far more effective than focusing equally on all risk categories.

Good risk management practices emphasize employees’ mental and physical awareness of potential hazards and impediments. The key to accident prevention is igniting self-discipline, recognizing imminent dangers, and taking action to mitigate risks on the job. Working at heights among the risks of exposure to the electrical installation, inclement weather conditions, probability of the failure of equipment, and collapse of the structure are some of the high-risk concerns on the job site, which are accentuated by the inability of the employees to properly use lanyards and harnesses. In view of this, the focus on training the employees to work with safety gear and inculcating a safe work culture becomes very important. In addition, it is imperative that control barriers be included in every action, as reliance on the support and protective barriers is complementary. It is essential that specific permissions are obtained before any activity is initiated on the site.

High-risk activities could also include the risks of proximity to overhead electrical wires (HT/LT) resulting in electrical shocks due to the static charging of metal structures like towers. This may happen because of the induction caused by the electromagnetic radiations emitted by the electricity flowing in the HT/LT lines. However, regulatory authorities mandate a minimum distance to be maintained from these power lines and the same must be religiously followed. Proper earthing of the metal structure before the commencement of work is another mandatory safety measure in such conditions. Concerns are raised from time to time regarding the harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation emitted by power lines and telecom towers on humans and other beings. International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) prescribes the limit of these radiations. These guidelines are followed in the design of power lines in India. In the case of telecom installations, the limit prescribed by the Government of India is even more stringent at one-tenth of those prescribed by ICNIRP The enforcement authorities ensure the adherence to the limits by the Service Providers through radiation testing drives. Because of these measures, the risk of exposure to electromagnetic radiation while working on a site, is greatly reduced. Still, continuous working for long hours in very close proximity to these installations may be avoided as a precautionary measure.

In addition, a considerable number of serious and potentially fatal incidents may occur while performing maintenance tasks. Permits to work are necessary whenever there is a significant risk to safety and health during an operation, and accurate preparation of the site or facility, as well as thorough unambiguous descriptions of operations, are required to control the risk. A safety scorecard must be created to promote a proactive safety culture and to boost HSSE performance throughout the Circles.

Organizations must develop a comprehensive mobility strategy to manage the end-to-end mobile device ecosystem. This means real-time visibility and control of every aspect of the end-user lifecycle – beginning with deployment, through management, monitoring, and maintenance. As companies strive to protect the safety of their field employees, they need to track their positions, monitor the device status, and enable remote control of any device, with just a click of the mouse.

A simpler user experience can lead to better safety outcomes. Safety cannot be compromised, but the user experience can make or break its adoption. Information should be gathered, updated, and communicated in real-time so that the office gets a complete picture of what is going on in the field at all times. The cycle of Train-Audit-Govern-Guide is how HSSE gets sustainably implemented.

Location intelligence is a vital component. This can enhance the level of safety in the field. Mobile teams benefit from GIS capabilities that help locate the appropriate assets for the job, while geofencing helps reduce the risk of crews starting work before they enter the service area. Assuring the activities on the ground is a requirement that must be done regularly in order to ensure their effectiveness. Road safety can be ensured by real-time routing that takes into account traffic, potential delays, priority, and distance. Controlled app and mobile device access while driving enhances driver safety.

The key to a quality assurance process is the level of site inspections, the follow-up on the closure of findings, and the horizontal application of repetitive findings. In addition to the necessary provisions that are required for the protection of the health and safety of employees in their professional lives, such standards also need to be incorporated into the personal lives of the workforce.

The last mile

Workplace safety should be treated seriously in the telecom industry, just as it is everywhere else. It must be integrated into all aspects of field operations, asset management, and other relevant solutions into a single flexible business process.