Got a head for heights? Think you could work more than a hundred metres above ground? That's just an average day in the life of a Vodafone network rigger...
However stressful work can be, at least most jobs take place on solid ground. But what if your to-do list involved climbing 120 metres into the sky before the real work even started? That’s exactly what our dedicated team of Fixed line riggers do on a regular basis. Will Cox is one of our team of Vodafone riggers in the UK, a team tasked with carrying out the most extreme engineering activity we need to undertake to maintain the network. We’ve been talking to him to find out what it’s like living life at 100 metres plus in the air.
“Rigging can involve a lot of different things,” he explains. “We do day-to-day stuff like installations, we fix faults on the network, we maintain and change equipment on the masts and customer sites. We do surveys on sites all around the country as well as pre-build, preliminary and structural surveys.”
It’s technical stuff, all done in spite of one big added challenge: the structures that the team work on. “A monopole, a mast used to provide signal to for one customer or company, is usually about 15 metres,” says Will. “But our regular masts and towers can be anything from 35 to 120 metres tall.”
To put that into perspective, 120 metres is 393 feet, which is roughly the length of five tennis courts stacked on top of each other.
“It can take quite a while to climb the tallest towers,” says Will. “All of them have rest platforms every ten or 15 metres, so you have a place to stop while you climb. It’ll probably take around half an hour to get from the bottom to the top of the tallest structures.
“It’ll probably take around half an hour to get from the bottom to the top.”
“It’s a very physical job, and the guys have to be multi-skilled in the sense that we train to do rescues and first aid at heights. It’s quite a niche thing to get into,” Will adds, explaining that it’s a business built on experience.
“I’ve been in the rigging industry for 25 years, and the rest of the team have all been in the industry quite a long time – there’s a total of 120 years’ experience between us.
“It’s all about getting used to working outdoors. You’ve got to be someone who likes the outdoor life, because every time you go out it’s different. You may be on the same structure and the work you’re doing may be the same but the conditions are always different.”
And that’s all thanks to Mother Nature…
Watching the weather
As you can imagine, working that high up comes with a fierce set of unique challenges. The most notable is the ever-changing (and sometimes extreme) British weather.
“Weather’s a major contributing factor. You can get caught by sudden weather fronts, but when you’re up there you’re looking around and keeping a constant watch on the weather.” And that’s because once Will and his team are up there, they’re up there for a while…
“Rigging is very time consuming work – it’s not something you can rush because of all the health and safety aspects. To go up and put a new link in at 35-40 metres, for example, you’ve got to have three guys up there all day. It’s a case of trying to do as much as you can in the time that you’ve got.”
So other challenges do the network riggers face? “The one thing you don’t want is to be on a tower when lightning comes,” says Will.
“Usually before we go out anywhere, we look to see what the weather will be like a day in advance. If you know you’re going to be on a structure and you know there’s going to be rain, you know that there could be lightning. We’re very cautious and safety is always the number one priority.
“If you touch the steel your hands might stick to it.”
“Your fingers get cold, too – especially in the winter. Sometimes you can’t feel your fingers. In the winter sometimes the tower is iced up, and if you touch the steel your hands might stick to it. It’s things like that that you learn to watch for with experience.”
Oh, and all that’s before you consider the invisible danger: wind. “We check wind speeds and temperature and if we think it’ll be too windy to complete the work, we don’t do it,” says Will. Why? Because those structures are made to sway in the wind. “If they don’t move they’ll break. It depends on the type of structure, but most of them will move two or three degrees.”
So does all that sound like your dream job, or your worst nightmare? Network rigging’s obviously incredibly important in terms of keeping our network shipshape, but it’s definitely not a job for the faint hearted.
“You’ve really got to have a head for heights,” says Will, “but the views are superb.”
Meet the team… Will and the other network riggers are far from Vodafone’s only unsung heroes. To read up on our secret team of network-testing foot soldiers, click here.