By William Graham
Without a doubt, the most important part of any training program is the safety component. All tasks can, and must, be done safely. Instructors doing training in fiber-optic installation have a responsibility to include the safety requirements. We have to know the rules, realize that they are for our protection, and the protection of others, and follow them. If we are injured the following things can happen:
We will end up on compensation trying to support ourselves and our families with less money than we require;
Compensation will pay us for eight hours a day but we might be in pain 24 hours a day;
Several employees on compensation at one time can put an employer out of business. Many small employers have lost their business exactly for this reason.
In recent years, workplace studies have proven that employees who work in unsafe conditions are under stress and do not produce the quantity or quality of work of which they are capable. In other words, it is bad business not to work safely. Safety doesn’t cost money, it saves money. And besides, it’s the right thing to do.
We owe it to ourselves, our families and our employers not to have an accident. Almost all accidents are preventable. If all members of the work team are observant and watch for near misses and close calls they will learn to develop a safe work environment. Safety is a cost of operation, and one that no company can do without.
With fiber-optics installation work, there are many areas where safety must be a consideration. Let’s look at only three of the most important: bare glass fibers, high power light sources and methane and hydrogen sulfide gas.
Bare glass fibers might be as small as 125um, the size of a hair (see fig.1). The glass fiber will shatter and splinter the same as any piece of glass. When we break off a bare fiber end we should have a sticky pad to put the end on, and a disposal container for the sticky pads.
The phrase “manage your fiber ends” is important to remember and follow. We should be able to account for every end, as required by some companies. If not, we might come across them in our hand, our behind or maybe our eye. They can enter the skin and an artery and reach the heart or get infected somewhere along the way. If we get one in the eye, then we have big trouble. A wooden splinter we can see and remove with tweezers and a metal sliver can often be removed with a magnet, but the glass fiber is invisible and it doesn’t even show on an X-ray. Wear eye protection, and manage your fibers. If you lose one eye, you might possibly lose the sight of the other one through a condition called “sympathetic reaction.” The job opportunities for blind fiber splicers are quite limited.
High power light sources are another cause of eye damage. There seems to be some effort in the industry to minimize the dangers of laser light. However, we should learn about the classes of laser light in training programs, and we should agree that none of them should be viewed, and especially not class 3 and 4 lasers. Laser light will not cause pain and the iris of the eye will not close voluntarily, as it will with most visible light.
The light is generally invisible light, which we cannot see, yet it can burn our eye if it is intense enough, and cause permanent eye damage. To ensure that this does not happen we must commit ourselves to the following:
Always consider a broken fiber to be live and never look at the end of a fiber that might be live;
Use a tester to tell if there is power on the fiber;
Be sure your microscope is equipped with a laser filter…just in case (see Fig 2).
Methane or Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S): There are times when we might have to check, install or repair a cable in a maintenance hole or a pit of some sort. These are places where H2S, methane, and other gases can accumulate and force out the breathing air. In Canada, we have two totally different sets of rules. One is for people working under the Provincial Labour Code and the other covers people working under the Federal Labour Code. Often a procedure will require a tripod to be set up above the maintenance hole to lift the worker out in an emergency (see Fig. 3).
Many people have died unnecessarily when they entered these areas and were overcome by gas. Some simple rules to follow will prevent this:
Never enter these areas by yourself – have a buddy at the surface;
Have a tester to test the air type and quality in the maintenance hole, tank or before you enter;
Have a good air purge on the area to ensure you have good breathing air;
If for some reason you cannot, you should have a full face mask and an air supply;
Wear a lifeline so your buddy can get you out if necessary;
Be trained to know what to do to revive a person overcome by gas;
A person overcome by methane or H2S gas must be revived in less than three minutes to prevent brain damage.
I can’t overemphasize the importance of this area of safety. Be sure of the spot where you are working. Don’t take someone else’s word for it…check it yourself. It’s your life.