The national broadband network (NBN) is an exciting and advantageous undertaking currently being rolled out across the country. Once complete, the NBN will ensure that all Australians have open access to fast broadband – improving internet capabilities for all families, businesses and individuals.

As the government strives to connect every town and community with the NBN, a large number of workers are carrying out a vast range of tasks and duties under the NBN Co umbrella.

Similar to most industries and occupations in Australia, there are a range of occupational health and safety hazards that employees in this field face each day. Mitigating the risk of injury, accident or death is an important goal of the NBN Co.

In an effort to protect the public, environment, communities and workers affected by the NBN installation, NBN Co has listed a number of required training for its employees, including NBN Safety and Awareness – offered online exclusively by AlertForce.

One of the most important steps to reducing the risks present in the NBN install is to ensure all workers are aware of the hazards they face. There are many potential risks within this field – here are just five of the most critical.

Open pits and manholes

Often, the work required to connect homes and communities with the NBN requires employees to open manholes and dig pits to reach and lay wires and cables buried below ground.

Many risks can be present when working in or near an open pit, including falling, engulfment and being struck by dropped objects. Mitigating these risks is an important factor in improving safety for the public and workers.

Fortunately, there are simple measures that can be put in place the reduce the risk of accident or injury, such as providing employees with hard hats, installing barriers around the open hole and ensuring the walls of the pit are secure and supported.

Working at heights

Connecting Australian homes to the NBN can involve scaling telephone poles and various other tasks that require employees to work above the ground.

When an individual is raised more than 2 metres off the ground, there is a significant risk of falling and sustaining serious injuries. It is therefore crucial to ensure workers have been adequately trained in working at heights practices.

Simple ways to minimise the risk of working above ground include using an enclosed elevated work platform (EWP) instead of a ladder when required to scale a telephone pole or building. When an EWP is unavailable or unreasonable, employees should have access to fall arrest systems, such as harnesses and tethers.

Asbestos exposure

Installing the wires and devices required to connect homes and businesses to the NBN will require employees to work within the walls and floors of many buildings. 

Because of this, there is a significant risk that individuals could become exposed to dangerous asbestos fibres. The ability to identify and respond to the presence of asbestos is a crucial factor in protecting the health and wellbeing of workers, residents and the community.

Drilling, cutting or breaking through walls, floors or roofs could disturb even bonded asbestos, causing dust and fibres to become airborne and pose serious health risks. If an individual were to inhale asbestos fibres, they would significantly increase their risk of developing fatal lung conditions, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis.

Any building that was constructed using material supplied before 2003 could potentially contain asbestos. In the interest of safety, employees should consider all older work sites as an asbestos risk.

When asbestos is discovered, it is important that the correct procedures are followed. This includes allowing only those who have received an asbestos assessment and removal qualification to undertake the duty of removing and disposing of the material.

Electrocution

As in any industry that requires direct access to power lines, cables and wiring, those working on the NBN face a serious risk of electrocution.

Addressing this risk can be as simple as ensuring all power has been switched off before commencing work on or close to these lines. However, in the event that electricity is present, employees should be wearing adequate personal protective equipment – such as charge dampening gloves – to reduce their risk of injury.

Furthermore, those working on or around electricity should ensure that another employee is available to act as an observer, keeping watch and ready to respond if an accident occurs.

Traffic

Much of the work on the NBN is being conducted close to public roads. This means any worker taking part in the installation could be at risk of a traffic accident.

Because of this, it is important that individuals in this field are adequately trained in traffic management and control. Undertaking a course in traffic control will ensure workers are able to safely and efficiently direct public road users away from their colleagues, reducing the risk of an accident.

Furthermore, traffic management courses often also include training in how to effectively manage pedestrians. When open pits and manholes or live electrical wires are present on a work site, it is crucial that the public are protected from these hazards.

Ensuring that pedestrians have a safe path past the site can simply involve asking the public to use an alternative route. However, in some cases it is more appropriate to create an alternative pathway on the road. In this situation, an adequate traffic management plan is required to protect the safety of pedestrians, road users and employees.

For more information on the hazards faced by those working on the NBN, or to access training in this field, talk to the AlertForce team today.

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