Splicing safety mostly follows the same guidelines installers use when installing any fiber optic cable plant. However, there are some special issues to be aware of. You know the routine for working safely with fiber optics: always wear safety glasses when preparing cables or stripping, cleaning and cleaving fibers. Be careful when working with cleaners or solvents that may be flammable or have harmful fumes. No smoking or eating around the workbench. In case there is a high-power laser source on the other end, don’t look into the end of fibers.
Splicing in the field has some special safety concerns. You will work outdoors, sometimes around other workers, people or traffic. Outdoor work means you need a hard hat—you need that indoors, too—and a reflective vest to ensure anyone nearby can see you, especially when working near a road.
Most splicing is usually done inside a trailer or van equipped as a splicing lab. Sometimes, it’s even possible to work in the open or inside a tent, if the work area has limited space available. Working outdoors means you have to deal with whatever is around the work area, whether it is in an urban, suburban or rural location, and still provide a secure work environment.
If the cable is aerial, you will usually bring it down to the ground for splicing and then attach the splice closure to the pole or the cable. Aerial work means you may work on ladders or in bucket trucks or even climb poles. It is possible—especially when restoring a cut cable—to splice cables in the air using a bucket truck. You need to follow all safety rules for those situations.
For underground cables, you will probably pull cables up from manholes or handholes for splicing inside a trailer. If you are following the crew trenching for the cable or pulling the cable, you may be working near heavy machinery. If the cable crew is finished and gone, all you have to worry about is everything else in the work area.
When setting up for a splicing job, it is important to find a safe parking space and place safety markers around the vehicle to warn drivers. In cities, it may be necessary to obtain permission to block road lanes and even hire a police detail to direct traffic. In rural areas, you may have to park off the road, so you must also ensure the ground is solid enough to park the vehicles.
If a job requires many splices, the splicer, optical time-domain reflectometer (OTDR) and other instruments may not have adequate battery life. In this case, the van or trailer will need to have a generator to power the equipment. You will spend a lot of time inside making splices, so the generator exhaust must be properly vented to prevent carbon-monoxide buildup inside the trailer.
In the early days of fiber, workers would sometimes splice underground in controlled environment vaults (CEVs) where telco equipment was housed. This is not done today because the arc that welds the fibers in the splicing machine could cause an explosion if combustible gases collect in the CEV. Splicing still involves solvents used to clean fibers, and some of these are flammable. It is important to properly ventilate the splice trailer to keep flammable fumes from building up.
When preparing cable for splicing, it is necessary to strip back up to 6 feet of cable to expose the buffer tubes and fibers. That means you can generate a lot of scraps that need to be placed in heavy garbage bags and disposed of properly at the end of the day. You might have excess cable after you cut the cable ends to length to splice them. It’s a good idea to save those for the cable plant owner in case they are needed in the future for restoration.
Splicing cables generates many fiber scraps, so you need a big disposable bin to hold them. As you learned in training classes, these fiber scraps can be dangerous. Always wear eye protection, and work on a black mat so you can see the scraps and pick them up to dispose of them. When handling them, be careful to not get them stuck in your fingers. Mark the bin “fiber scraps,” seal it with tape and safely dispose of it at the end of the day, perhaps in the bags of cable scraps.
Did you know the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a telecommunications standard? Find OSHA 1910.268 on www.osha.gov.