NASHVILLE, Tenn.–Members of the National Wireless Safety Alliance said that tower contractors may soon begin to see requirements from carriers that a percentage of their employees have NWSA certification — possibly as soon as this year, according to NWSA board of governors members at a panel at this week’s National Association of Tower Erectors conference.
Formed in 2015 with the goal of improving safety in the tower industry as well as establishing a baseline set of skills for work categories, the NWSA launched two tower technician certifications in early 2017, with a two-part testing process (written and practical) that examines a tech’s skills and safety during tower work. NWSA plans to add a foreman certification by the end of this year. Although NWSA is moving fast compared to certification programs in other industries, panelists said, it is running into a chicken-and-egg issue: which comes first, widespread testing availability or carrier requirements that employees be certified?
The written test can be taken online at many facilities, but the practical test requires a test site to be certified, and practical examiners have to be available who are certified themselves. As of now, 27 companies have gone through the process to become certified sites for the practical exam, according to Kevin Schmidt, project manager for Sioux Falls Tower and Communications and a member of the NWSA board of governors. However, only 13 are open to the public — the rest are companies which have become test sites in order to certify their own employees. And he added that the NWSA needs more practical examiners, and that finding them is the most common complaint that he hears from companies seeking to get more employees certified.
“There is pent-up demand for this,” Schmidt said. “We need more of these folks.”
Brian Wiedower, who manages the environmental, health and safety group at Sprint, said that Sprint asked its contractors about their awareness of the NWSA program and input on how quickly they could get their employees certified. He said that around a quarter of companies said they already had some employees with NWSA certification and 83% felt they could achieve certification in a percentage of their workforce by 2019. Sprint has not yet begun to require NWSA certification as part of its contracts, Wiedower said, but he added that all carriers are looking at it and contractors should expect to start seeing it come up as part of contracts.
NWSA has had about 600 people take the written exam but less than 200 have been able to also take the practical exam, and not all of the people who have taken the exam pass — it’s meant to be challenging, panelists said, and a real demonstration of skills and knowledge that are necessary both to be conduct work safely and to get jobs right the first time — which also plays a role in risk.
Benjamin Afton, environmental safety, health and security manager for Black & Veatch and another member of the NWSA board of govenors, said that when his company started to look into the circumstances of every tower-related worker injury in 2016, it found that about three-quarters of injuries occurred when crews had to go back to a site to fix something.
“It was a quality issue,” Afton said. If everything had been installed properly the first time, he went on, the crews wouldn’t have had to take the risks of another climb.
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