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Directorate of Telecommunications
Health and Safety? - The Old Ways

Brian HillThe Health & Safety at Work Act was promulgated in 1974 and in recent years the even stronger emergence of the H&S Executive has no doubt managed to upset just about everybody for any and every reason.  But to be fair, the regime, or lack of one, in place in the years previous to the Act was a little susceptible to dangerous practices.

There is a current quotation in the from the HSE that:

“In some ways, the workforce of 2004 is unrecognisable from that of 30 years ago."

I would concur with that.

How many of us now can look back on some of those installations and not raise a hearty laugh - even if it hides a little shudder of bad memory?  "But for the grace of God…………."  Let me dig into my memory for some examples from before the Act as to what might be considered very poor practice in today's climate.

It must be remembered that in many cases the adage that "Beggars can't be choosers" applied and that following the impetus of Unit Beat Policing and the required proliferation of new UHF sites in 1960's, Police Authorities and Dtels had to go cap in hand to users and owners of suitable buildings to provide workable sites and use whatever was offered.  However, it is to be hoped that all such situations as these have now long been improved, changed or abandoned.

Town A:
Police UHF base station located on the  third(?) floor, in a building used for making electrical cables.

The base station is placed on wooden bearers across the top of a metal safety cage around the stairwell.  Access to the equipment front panel is gained by using a narrow-runged steel ladder, the foot resting on a steel floor and the top against the stairwell cage, work being carried out over the stairwell.  All surfaces of the environment are covered in a layer of French chalk from the cable manufacturing process making any movement slippery and hazardous.  A second person in attendance is advised - to hold the ladder.  Test equipment, any withdrawn radio units, tools and the technician are effectively over the stairwell when working. Any extended working from the ladder is difficult and physically tiring. The stairs are in regular use.

Town B:
Police UHF base station located on the  upper floor in a building used for milling grain.

The base station is suitably placed in a brick alcove adjacent to an outer wall where the aerial is situated.  Access to the base station is via a narrow stepway around a piece of auxiliary machinery for the milling process with a belt-driven, unprotected flywheel.  The machinery is likely to start and stop at unpredictable intervals, making passage hazardous, especially when wearing the allocated protective clothing of a brown dustcoat.  There is a profusion of grain husks present, and a persistent dust - laden atmosphere when the mill is in use.  Protective clothing and some sort of dust scarf for the face is essential.

Town C:
Police UHF base station located on the  upper floor of a block of residential flats (5 or 6 floors?).

The base station is placed within the building's dry riser area opposite to an access door in a corridor.  Access to the base station is by opening (unlocking) the door and leaning across the riser void.  Although having safer personal access than the previous locations, test equipment, withdrawn units, tools and half of the technician are effectively over the riser void when in use. Drop anything down the riser void and it clanks down all the floors before hitting the ground – resulting in much cursing and having to go down possibly to the basement for access to the bottom of the riser.

Site D:
When attended, all services were down.  The site exhibited the classic symptoms of a complete mains failure.  After tests (some inadvertent!) it was found that the complete racking metalwork and all units of the installation were at full mains potential.  The actual fault was traced to a blown fuse in the Neutral line to the racks.  Such practice should, and has been, made illegal.

Vehicle E:
The vehicle was a non-standard Mini-Cooper used as a fast, covert observation vehicle.  It exhibited the fault symptoms of complete radio and engine failure when turning right.  The actual fault being dependant on the rate of turn and the speed of the vehicle.  At some stage an additional second vehicle battery had been unofficially fitted to improve electrical performance, but NOT by the regular maintenance unit.  The battery was located in the vehicle boot, in a near side well adjacent to the rear wheel.  However, it had not been secured or covered and the failures were due to the battery rocking in the well and allowing the battery 'live' terminal to short-circuit against the protruding edge of metal on the vehicle frame.  This had eroded the substance of the frame by severe sparking.  The fuel access to the petrol tank is also in this position thus inviting a future explosion when the vehicle is in use under these conditions.

Brian Hill
10th December 2007

Acknowledgement: Brian Hill

page updated: 22/07/19


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