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Q&A: How the A10.48 Standard Can Help Improve Safety on Communication Towers

Apr 15, 2024

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Closeup of communication tower

Those involved in the construction, maintenance and demolition of communication structures play a vital role in communities across the country. And they, like all workers, have an inherent right to safety, health and well-being on the job.

The recently updated ANSI/ASSP A10.48 standard establishes minimum criteria for safe practices and training in these work environments. Gordon Lyman and Don Doty of the ANSI/ASSP A10.48 committee joined  “The Case for Safety Podcast” and spoke with host Scott Fowler about the evolution of this standard and what it means for your safety program.

Fowler: What is the history of A10.48?

Doty: The outline for A10.48 started years ago with the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH). Chairman Kevin Beauregard, then the area director for North Carolina OSHA, asked the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) to bring industry best practices back to NACOSH.

The NATE social relations committee gathered all the available best practices, and those 15 chapters became the foundation for several source documents, including the first A10.48 standard. OSHA created regulations for NATE to write standards for the design of base-mounted hoists and gin poles. This led to the development of the first A10.48 standard, published in 2016.

Fowler: How has A10.48 evolved?

Lyman: As the A10.48 committee came together and we started reviewing the OSHA regulations and other industry standards, we saw that and there weren’t any existing regulations and standards that covered the telecommunications industry.

When we wrote the first standard, it was a design and use standard. As we went through the process,  we soon understood through trial and error that didn't work very well. The design section of the standard became TIA-322 (the standard for the installation, alteration and maintenance of antenna-supporting structures and antennas) and the use section became A10.48. Both of these standards currently refer back to the TIA-222 standard, which is the design standard for towers.

Fowler: What is involved in the pre-job planning and job hazard analysis with communication structures?

Doty: There’s a difference between analysis and assessment, and that's an important distinction that we worked on with this upate to A10.48. We wanted to make sure that those using the standard are completing a hazard analysis and not just an assessment. The pre-job planning and the job hazard analysis should take place in the field before the work starts.

New to this version of A10.48 is that we changed “rigging plans” to “construction plans.” The construction plan specifies what’s going on with the project, including the class of the lift and the qualifications of the individuals involved. There's a general list of items in the standard that guides users on what to include in the construction plan.

Fowler: What are common hazards associated with communication structures?

Doty: One of the most common is fall hazards. When climbing a communication structure, you have to be using continuous fall protection once you’re 6 feet off the ground. This also includes how you climb the ladder. We always use three points of contact — two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand.

To maintain continuous fall protection, you have to double hook with the back lanyards or use a tower-mounted safety system. Workers coming into contact with power lines, animals bulding nests on towers and extreme weather conditions can all create hazards that require analysis in pre-planning. Job hazard analysis is very important to document potential hazards before work begins and throughout the project. 

Fowler: What fall protection requirements are included in A10.48?

Lyman: The ANSI/ASSP Z359 and A10.32 standards focus on fall protection, so there was no need to duplicate those standards. If you're following A10.48 standard, you really need to be familiar with the Z359 standards as well.

We picked out items that were specific to telecom structures. The specific language in A10.48 around training is a little different than A10.32 and Z359. A10.48 states that if you have a two-person crew, you shall have a minimum one competent climber-rescuer and one authorized climber-rescuer. A crew of three or more workers shall have a minimum of  two competent climbers and rescue workers.

Fowler: What are considerations for climbing communication towers and accessing structures? 

Doty: Companies must to specify the process and procedure that an employee may use to access the particular type of tower they're working on. Each tower is unique. There are self-supporting towers, monopoles, guide towers; but how you work on that particular tower is something that the crew has to determine. Usually the company decides what equipment they're going to use and then adapts based on site-specific conditions.

Fowler: What does A10.48 say about structural loading conditions?

Doty: The construction plan outlines the parameters of the equipment used and the load forces placed on the structure. This is important because small loads can have less effect on the tower but larger loads can impact the structure itself.

The standard identifies three classes of construction plans based on the size of the load. Class II plans are for loads up to 500 pounds, Class III for loads up to 2,000 pounds and Class IV for loads greater than 2,000 pounds. These are significant forces that require evaluation. The requirements for structural modifications and member removal are also part of the structural loading considerations.

In other words, you can't take an in-service member out of the tower and replace it with a larger one without having a temporary frame, or instructions from a structural engineer about the proper procedure so you don't put the structure in jeopardy. Over the years, there have been many incidents where people didn't take into consideration the existing forces on the structure. This standard reinforces those requirements to work with a structural engineer and develop a documented rigging plan as part of the overall construction plan on the project.

Fowler: How can you ensure everyone is properly trained to do their job safely when working on communication towers?

Lyman: Training can be a very extensive topic. There are many different topics involved in telecommunication work. As a result, with this revision to A10.48, the employer is responsible for setting up a training program.

The reason we put it on the employer is because there are so many different types of work out there and you can't generalize training. Depending on the type of work you do, the employer is responsible for setting up training programs for that type of work. Employers need to train workers on the site-specific hazards they could encounter.

Doty: Gordon brings up an excellent point that employers need to tailor training to the work environment. For example, if a company works on rooftops, training needs to focus on rooftop protocols. The same with water towers, monopoles, self-supporting towers and guide towers. They’re all above ground, but they all have unique elements.

Fowler: Anything else you’d like to add?

Lyman: In this revision, OSHA wanted the language of A10.48 changed from “should” to “shall” so that they could reference it. A10.48 is the standard for telecommunication structures, so anyone involved in telecommunications should understand and follow it.

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