In an age where we are reliant on modern technology as a part of our job, it is difficult to imagine not being able to use your cell phone or access the Internet because of topography. As the Field Safety Manager for a 300-mile electric power transmission power line construction project, one of my first tasks was to address the question How do you make communication possible across 275 miles of relatively unpopulated, harsh mountainous territory? Specifically, I had to meet OSHAs requirements for communication: 29 CFR 1926.35 Employee Emergency Action Plans and 29 CFR 1926.50 Medical Services and First Aid.
For a project health and safety administrator, it is vital to be able to communicate with your team members and with outside resources. How do you keep tabs on who is where and what is happening? How do you find if something has gone wrong or someone needs help? In fact, these are the reasons that OSHA implemented the Standards listed above life and death situations may depend upon it!
On this particular project, numerous construction crews were working at different, extremely remote locations with a distance of several miles between each work crew. While the power line tower construction and electric line-stringing companies included requirements for an eventual end-to-end 2-way radio system, the system was not available for at least the first year of the project. And, since cell phones and the average two-way radio systems were not able to be consistently or reliably available to meet the communication needs required for this project, I needed to find an alternative.
After digging around and countless meetings, calls, and trips to all kinds of communications companies, we settled on a resourceful, cost-conscious and effective method of communicating between the crews, safety personnel, surveyors and managers. The end result was a creative mix of new technologies:
- Cell phone signal boosters in each vehicle in the field
- GPS SPOT locator units for each crew
- New technology satellite phones for work crews heading into the most remote locations.
The vendor that built these systems also owned many of the frequencies needed for an end-to-end two-way radio system that would reach across the 275-mile project location.
Of course, the systems effectiveness had to be proven we were relying on it! So, I spent hours deep in the mountains field testing the equipment in some of the most remote project locations I have ever seen. Luckily, I was helped by some of the project team members who had spent a great deal of time in this area. Experience also helps communication!
This project had unusual difficulties a big, remote, mountainous and unpopulated area that could have thwarted OSHAs communication requirements. At any time, it would have been easy to throw in the towel, cross our fingers or perhaps put together a patched-together system and hope it worked. However, with some tenacious ingenuity and a confidence that a reliable health and safety communication system could be found, we were able to overcome the almost overwhelming challenges and put an effective field communication system into place.
Have you been faced with challenges to provide adequate communication systems for your employees? What has made a job site seem almost impossible to conquer? What did you do to overcome those challenges?