Warren’s Words of Wisdom: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No!! “Holy Radio Frequency Batman…It’s a small cell site mounted on power poles!!”

WOW_2019_USENow that you know what to look for, what are they and how can they hurt you?

These small cell sites are being installed to fill in gaps in locations where cell signals are weak (ever have a call drop?). They emit high energy radio frequency (RF) that if you are close enough to, you can get internal injuries from, something like a microwave energy causing heat build-up in internal organs. In order for them to affect you, you have to be within 5 feet of an energized antenna for at least 5 minutes.

What can you do to protect yourself?

If you have to work within 5 feet of an antenna, before you start, look near the base of the pole for a label with a phone number to call.  Calling the number will put you in touch with that cell carrier’s dispatch center who will help you arrange to have the location shut down.  Most require at least 24 hour advance notice, unless it’s an emergency,  Once they tell you the unit is shut down, there is no way to confirm it unless you open the power supply switch—tell the carrier you are doing this before you do it. In accordance with OSHA standards, you need to apply a lockout/tagout lock on the switch (controlling high energy hazard).

Once your work is completed, remove your lockout, close the power switch and contact the carrier to let them know you are finished.

What if there is a broken pole from a storm or car with one of these antennas on it?

If the power is still on, it can still be operating! Stay at least 5 feet away, keep anyone with a pacemaker as far away as possible. The power lines should be your first concern, just stay clear of the area until the power company tells you it’s safe to enter. In the picture top left, the antenna is on a pole with no primary (called a stub pole). If it’s a damaged stub pole with no customers out of power, the utility may not get a call of problem. If you see the stub pole and antenna, contact your utility and stay at least 5 feet away until it’s safe.

NOTE: During storm conditions some small cell sites are battery back-up powered (48 volt DC) to keep the 911 cell system available. Always call the number listed on the pole to determine the condition of the unit you are working around. A “dead” unit will come “hot” when the power is turned back on—prepare for that.


Review of actions to take:

  • Call the posted contact number.
  • Notify the carrier of the need to shut down the unit (24 hrs notice for non-emergencies).
  • Perform the Lockout/Tagout (LOTO).
  • Pre-job briefings should include a discussion about the antenna(s).
  • Clear the LOTO when work is completed.
  • Notify the carrier that work is completed and the LOTO removed.
  • Ensure all workers are in the clear.

Find the RF hazard to a PW or DOT tree trimmer working from a bucket!


About Connecticut T2 Center

The Training & Technical Assistance Center at UCONN provides education and technical assistance to members of Connecticut's Transportation and Public Safety Community, including municipal public works directors, street and road maintenance superintendents and staff, city and town engineers, Connecticut Department of Transportation employees, transportation planners and law enforcement professionals serving as legal traffic authorities. We are Connecticut's LTAP Center
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