No one should forget the years 2013 and 2014 when the tower industry had 25 climbers die on the job. One group that never will is the National Wireless Safety Alliance, (NWSA), a 501 c-6 non-profit organization, which turned three years old this month, having been incorporated Feb. 2, 2015.
The group was formed to perform “assessments of knowledge and skills and provide verifiable worker certification,” according to its mission statement. As a result of these certifications, the organization hopes to reduce workplace risk and improve the quality of the work performed on towers and communications network infrastructure.
In the first two years of its existence, NWSA spent time organizing committees and the developing the Telecommunications Tower Technician (TTT) 1 and 2 certifications. In the last year, hundreds of industry professionals have taken the written and practical exams, and the NWSA has been busy developing the Telecommunications Tower Foreman certificate.
Contractor safety is big part of Brian Wiedower’s job at Sprint. He is on the NWSA Board of Governors, “We put a big focus on partnering with contractors that have a good track record,” he said. “These certifications are very good for us because they tell us that a vendor has their employees certified in an agreed upon format so we know what we are getting. That means reduced risk for us.”
Kevin Schmidt, a tower technician for Sioux Falls Tower and Communications and also member of the Board of Governors, said certification would be a plus for a potential hire, but the company is happy to train and have NWSA certify its new employees, because “it’s the right thing to do.”
“Our involvement in the NWSA is to try to keep the tower industry as safe as possible,” Schmidt said. “Our goal is to keep every one of the employees that climbs these towers on a daily basis as safe as possible.”
Beyond carriers and tower service companies, the NWSA maintains a Board of Governors that spans broadcasters, educational institutions, consultants, equipment distributors, engineers, government agencies, insurance companies, small, medium and large contractors, the legal community, OEMs, and utilities.
“A very broad cross section is necessary for our Board of Governors,” NWSA President Duane MacEntee said. “When you think about the needs of our industry for qualified workers to do their jobs, this broad-based industry body will steer NWSA to meet the needs for future workforce development.”
The certification tests are developed through a task force, which is even broader than the Board of Governors in many respects. It is a painstaking process. The task force for the development of the Telecommunications Tower Foreman credential currently underway consists of 30 to 40 subject matter experts (SMEs) that meet every six to seven weeks in Dallas. These SMEs define the specifications are the ones that do the work, do the training or have received training. The process takes 18 months on the average.
“This is the first time this industry has put a stake in the ground and said it wants an independent certification that is portable and nationally recognized for whatever level of workforce that is needed,” MacEntee said. “We want to be disciplined and deliberate. It is a fast-paced industry that we are a part of and we have to get it right.”
The tests that are given to the tower climbers must be developed in an independent manner and NWSA will itself go through an independent accreditation process with ANSI in the next 18 months.
“We support the efforts people getting proper training and employers that pursue valid training pathways, such as TIRAP for example, but we have to remain at somewhat of an arms-length from those groups so that we are unbiased and independent,” MacEntee said. “It maintains the integrity of the certification, which must be developed in the way that there is no favor given to any certain pathway of training.”
NWSA seeks to set a universal standard for competence in an industry where there is a certificate for everything and many of them are from sources that have a vested interest in having people holding those certificates.
“We are totally independent. We don’t do any training or endorse any certain training path,” MacEntee said. “We take what the industry tells us are the specifications for that qualification and we design a statistically valid testing instrument that allows us to produce an independent certification examination process.”
The initiative to have certified climbers was not mandated by government. It is a grassroots effort. As a matter of course, a big goal of NWSA’s is to have the carriers require tower contractors to use certified climbers when completing work on their antennas and other equipment. MacEntee hopes that carrier contracts in 2019 will require tower service companies to use NWSA-certified climbers.
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence. Sharpe Smith may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.