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Workplace Hazards for the RF Engineer

A total of 5,559 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2003, the most recent year for which numbers are available, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Don't let yourself or a colleague be among this number in 2005.

A total of 5,559 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2003, the most recent year for which numbers are available, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Don’t let yourself or a colleague be among this number in 2005.
Workplace Hazards
(click thumbnail)Fig. 1: This cored hole for a ground strap has been left unfilled. Hang a sign: ‘Rodents Welcome.’

(click thumbnail)Fig. 2: This is the other end of the hole in Fig. 1. ‘What goes in must come out…’

(click thumbnail)Fig. 3: A burned-out packaged high-voltage unit was abandoned so long ago that trees have grown around it. What sort of oil is left in this tub?

(click thumbnail)Fig. 4: Material left over at an abandoned tower site is overgrown with brush.

(click thumbnail)Fig. 5: This broken-down fence is at the anchor point of a guy system. Would this be acceptable to the insurance company?
Recently inspecting a particularly bad transmitter building during due diligence, it struck me that this toilet was probably the worst, most unhealthy working environment I had ever been in. The quest for profit should stop when the working place becomes dangerous and unhealthy. But at this site I sensed a partnership of neglect and design. Obviously the engineering and management teams must have been conspiring to let affairs get to such a despicable state.

After the inspection, and for about the twentieth time in my career, I went back to the hotel and completely disrobed in the foyer of my room. Using the plastic laundry bag as a container I placed all the clothes I had worn to this miserable transmitter building into it. I marked it Hazardous Material with a big orange indelible pen. Just the indelible aroma of that wretched place emanating from the fabric made this a distasteful exercise. After showering and changing I paid the bell captain $50 to have them incinerated. (I really like full-service hotels.)

My confidential inspection report was circulated to the involved parties. The seller was irritated that I had spent 15 pages accurately and vividly describing the sty they were trying to sell us for millions of dollars and only five pages on the equipment and technical arrangement.

One of those 15 pages explained that it would take the combined skills of housekeepers, renovators, roofers, painters, fumigators and trash haulers to make the place habitable for more than 5 minutes.

Their rebuttal to Mr. Fitch was, “What the h- is his problem? It’s only a transmitter building, not the Taj Mahal.”

I will concede that the Taj Mahal was built to hold the body of the ruler’s beloved for eternity. Still, a transmitter building must be clean and safe enough to spend at least half a day living there.


A transmitter building need not be on a par with the high rollers’ suite at the Luxor; and a few choice tidbits of old gear and historic station souvirners can add charm. However, we did not need the fire danger of a room full of paper station logs dating from Marconi to 1980. We did not need an obstacle course comprising 30 pieces of Conelrad and EBS gear tossed randomly around the rooms (wake up! Conelrad is never coming back!), four full trashcans (atop one: a newspaper reporting on Bob Dole’s presidential campaign) and animal droppings everywhere (including a collection of leftover feathers from choice meals obviously consumed by animals that considered this their condo).

Ah, yes, rodents. We probably should have known when the engineer “called ahead” before we left on the inspection, saying, “The phone bell drives most of the vermin out.”

The outside lighting was dark, all the bulbs having burned out. To replace them we would have needed a ladder; but no one was sure where the ladder had gone. Nor did they know where to find the shop vac or a mop (although perhaps these folks didn’t know what such implements were and so could not recognize them if found).

I asked the sellers during a conference call whether they would let their children enter this building. “H- no, it’s too dangerous.” I asked if they would show the place with pride to anyone that they considered important. “Are you kidding?”

A craftsman is known by his work and his tools. Enough said.

Clean it up

Make your transmitter site safe and healthy to occupy. Let’s enumerate common dangers and tips on how to get rid of a few.

Health – The dangers include mountains of mouse droppings (think hunta virus); rodents, snakes, wasps, bees and mosquitoes (think West Nile virus encephalitis or fever), filthy or non-functional bathrooms, and so on.

Living pests need an environment in which to prosper. Why give it to them? Clean the place so that you could eat pizza off the floor, then seal the building and ATUs against flying and four-legged pests. Get rid of little standing pools of water where mosquitoes breed. Clean the toilet at least once a year whether it needs it or not.

Isn’t it about time you threw out the old snow tires from the general manager’s ’57 Chevy that have been sitting in the transmitter yard, maybe since 1957? They’re prime breeding ground for insects. Aren’t you tired of tripping over them, even if you have gotten used to a swarm of bugs that greet you in the August heat?

Safety – Poor electrical wiring or personnel protection from shock are hazards here. (Have you seen interlocks cheated and covers removed? Hey, where are those covers, anyway?) Familiarize yourself with the National Electrical Code; get your electric plant safety-oriented.

Also of concern: broken glass, rusty sharp objects, implosion dangers, buried and/or abandoned oil tanks, beryllium dust from power tubes (why are there 30 duds sitting around if you know they’re bad?), PCBs in capacitors and transformers, oil vapors, excessive cold or damp, excessive heat, excessive humidity, dirty air filters, air-borne dust and crap, unmarked hazards such as chemicals or solvents with illegible labels – the list continues.

Specific fire danger – Address fire hazards such as old log sheets, ancient wood furniture, insufficient or blocked fire exits, no fire extinguishers (you need A, B, C type as a minimum), no fire alarms, poor or non-existent lighting for emergency entrance/exit, and needed maintenance work such as repairing leaky roofs.

Make sure the local fire department knows your site is used by the radio station, and also how to reach you, enter the property (some stations have strange easements and driveway arrangements) and open the gate. A simple solution is to install a fire department lock in series with your lock on the chain. Also help the fire department and yourself by cutting the flora down to ground level.

It can take years for a site to degrade into deplorable condition. If this describes your site, know that it will take time to eradicate the problems. But it will never be safe and healthy unless you set goals, implement a schedule and invest the money and time to get it done. Otherwise the degradation is happening on your watch – and you may bear some or all of the fault when someone, probably you, gets hurt.

As Pogo says, “I have the met the enemy and it is us.”