These two topics—training and safety—are appropriate to cover together; properly trained installers will be safe workers, and safe workers are more likely to do careful, good work. Training also is where most installers first learn about safety, as they work in training school labs to learn how to pull, terminate, splice and test fiber optic cables.

(Ed. Note: Part 6 is here.)

Training is very important in fiber optics, even for many experienced cabling installers. If they are only familiar with copper cabling, they will find fiber optics is not the same. The process of installing cables is similar, with concern for pulling tension, bend radius and kinking common to both. But fiber cables must be attached to pulling eyes by the strength members in the cable and pulled differently. Installers must learn to identify the strength members of fiber optic cables and know how to attach pulling eyes and grips correctly.

Termination is obviously different from copper, especially since several different termination styles are used, and one concerns working with hair-thin strands of glass optical fiber instead of copper wires. Splicing outside plant fiber optic cables also is quite different from copper cables and requires skills in cable handling and the operation of a complicated splicing machine. Finally, testing fiber also differs and requires familiarity with several types of instruments and test procedures.

Novices, of course, need training to learn the basics of fiber optic technology and components and could become certified through the Fiber Optic Association (FOA) Certified Fiber Optic Technician Program. Training should be comprehensive and given by experienced instructors. Ideally, novices then should be apprenticed to an experienced installer for on-the-job-training.

Even experienced fiber optic installers occasionally need training. If they are using a new connector style, splicer or instrument, training in its operation will help them use the instrument more quickly and effectively. No matter how capable they are, on the job is not the place to learn how to use a new component, tool or instrument. Most manufacturers offer training for installers using their products, and an experienced installer can usually learn a new process or how to use a new instrument in less than a day. Then the installer should practice on his or her own before attempting a field installation with it.

Safety is the most important aspect of any installation. Installers must always be familiar with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and any local work rules regarding workplace safety. In addition, the unique aspects of fiber optic installations need to be understood, included in the job work rules and brought to the attention of the installers.

Besides the usual safety issues for construction, generally covered under OSHA rules, fiber optics adds concerns for eye safety, chemicals, sparks from fusion splicing, disposal of fiber shards and more. Before beginning any installation, safety rules should be posted on the office wall and on the job site and reviewed with all on-site personnel.

All personnel must wear construction safety gear plus everyone must wear eye protection whenever working with fiber. The contractor should ensure adequate supplies of protective eyewear in good condition are available; since working with fiber requires clear vision, the installer could have problems with dirty or scratched protective eyewear.

There is a persistent myth that light in the fiber can harm your eyes. In fact, during construction, the only time light is in the fiber is during tracing or testing when the power of the light is too low to be harmful. Only some very powerful systems, mostly long distance or fiber to the home, are dangerous, and only then during normal operation when personnel should not be inspecting them. That said, developing the habit of not looking into fiber is good practice. Microscopes used for inspection of connectors can focus light in the fiber, making it more hazardous, but some microscopes are available with filters to reduce the risk.

The real issues with safety are working with the fiber scraps from preparing fibers for termination and splicing and working with some potentially hazardous chemicals, such as adhesives and solvents. Fiber scraps need to be safely handled and discarded, so workers should have black mats to work on that make finding the scraps easierand containers for disposal. Potential hazards of chemicals used in the process should be known; the information is easily obtainable on material safety data sheets available from the suppliers.

HAYES is a VDV writer and educator and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.JimHayes.com.