Network installation risks can be both “hard”—things that pose safety to life and limb as well as installation materials and network components—and “soft”—inadequate or inaccurate planning, topology, or system design that adversely affects its functionality.
Both categories of risk are significant, and need to be addressed in any professional network installation.
What is a “hazard” in network installation?
Before we talk more about the risks in network installation, we need to define exactly what we mean. The technical term in the industry is “hazard,” and the definition of a hazard, according to the ISO 14971, is “a potential source of harm.”
This source can be a situation, behavior, setting, or a combination thereof, that in some way poses the threat of human injury or ill health.
The focus is of course on the health and safety of the installers and operators, but a secondary consideration is that of the project itself. Safety hazards can both delay progress on a network installation as well as halt or complicate its execution. So when it comes to network installation risks, the best way to move forward is to identify hazards and take measures beforehand to address them. This minimizes setbacks and downtime, and protects personnel from harm.
Physical safety hazards in network installation
Let’s take a look at the most common of the possible risky or hazardous sources, situations, or acts in network installation.
High voltage and electrical wires
High voltage and/or electrical wires are common in industrial and large-scale commercial buildings, and they often occupy the same sub-spaces where Ethernet or fiber-optic wire do. HV wires present a risk of electrocution as well as damage to tools and equipment. Additionally, Cat- or fiber-optic cables installed near high voltage wires need special jacketing and/or careful placement in order to avoid conflict.
It is also important to avoid accidental cutting or disturbing electrical wire. A downed electrical system will cause delays for the project, reduce productivity for the client, and increase costs as well as put the crew in danger of electrocution.
Working at heights
Some installation sites have high ceilings that necessitate working at heights. Sometimes catwalks are in place, but other times installation crews will need to bring in lifts in order to have the access that they need. Crews need to be properly trained to move both themselves, and their supplies and tools, safely about at great heights.
In some cases, the cable installation may call for building modifications, which means that power tools will be used to drill holes, cut channels for cable, etc. When power tools are in play, they must be properly calibrated and well-maintained, and the crew must have the training to use them in a manner that is safe for them and causes no unintended damage to the building.
Dangerous areas and hazardous substances
In network installations that take place in industrial buildings, sometimes the setting itself presents hazards such as:
- Active machinery
- Locked areas
- Moving vehicles
- Gas (and gas lines)
- Toxic raw materials or by-products
- Fire and explosions
Teams must make a plan for how to avoid these hazards, as well as what to do if something were to go awry—an accidentally punctured gas line, for instance.
Slips and trips
Even in ordinary office buildings, there can be zones where slips and trips are more likely. Installation crews should be observant of these areas and use caution when moving themselves and their equipment through them. In some cases it may be appropriate to flag or demarcate the hazardous areas with paint or tape.
How to mitigate physical safety risks and installation hazards
So how does an installation team about to start a project determine what has hazardous potential? They conduct a risk assessment.
The goals of a risk assessment are to:
- Identify risks
- Rate their severity
- Identify how to decrease or eliminate the risk if at all possible
- Determine how to deal with risks if they do come to a crisis
Risk assessments should be carried out before any installation work begins. In office or home settings, risk assessments may be short and sweet, and centered mainly around non-interference re: the electrical systems; but in industrial settings they can be very lengthy indeed in proportion with the voltages, equipment, and hazards inherent to a manufacturing facility.
In either case, it is important to have collaboration between a network installation professional, the owner or manager in charge of the building, and stakeholders in the project. Their combined expertise will ensure that all facets of potential risk are addressed, that all risk reduction measures are put in place, and keeps everyone in the loop about possible setbacks or problems the project may run into.
Training and training records
A well-trained workforce will also go a long way towards correctly assessing and managing risk. A high-risk project should employ network installation teams that have training in installation around high voltage, machinery, heights, equipment, etc., as well as timely training records to back this up.
This can include training in:
- First Aid knowledge
- Electrical and/or high voltage systems
- Power tools and specialized equipment
- Working around powerful machinery
- Working around hazardous materials
These teams will have the experience and expertise needed to minimize “operator error” in a high-risk installation. They will know how to identify risks, mitigate the hazards as much as possible, and deal with situations where risks become actual dangers.
Protective clothing and on-site markers
Fire-resistant clothing can protect installation crews from open flame, and other types of PPE can protect them from chemicals and radiation. In busy settings inside of factories or in high-traffic area, high-visibility clothing will make the team members easy to track for their coworkers and for vehicular operators.
Installation crews may also find it useful to physically mark or block off their active working area with temporary flags or barriers.
“Soft” risks and setbacks in network installation
So far we’ve covered “hard” risks in network installation: aspects that make the physical install more dangerous. But there are also “soft” risks in installation that may affect the network’s overall efficacy if not guarded against.
Make sure the scope of your network meets or even exceeds your expected needs. The best way to ensure the execution of a strong network that meets clients’ needs is to tailor the network topology to the business needs, and to add enough data ports and necessary hardware and software to make it easy to scale up the network in the future.
Radio frequency interference
If using a Wi-Fi booster incorporated into your wired network for certain devices, or cheaper cabling that has less robust RF shielding, a network installation needs to be preceded by a wireless site evaluation and countermeasures to cut or decrease RF interference on the network.
Software and application interfaces
Having software and applications installed properly on your server will keep the different devices that use them from experiencing lag, dropped data, and other errors.
Make sure that your cabling, network topology, and physical cable layout can support all of the programs that the business in question needs to run, and include redundancies to make the network overall more reliable.