History, facts and shocking realities. [back to the papers index]
Just over 12 years ago, an ENG technician was seriously injured as he
raised the mast on his station's truck into overhead
Through February 21, 1994, perhaps we could have remained in a state
of allowance for segments of our industry to police
their own safety, for on February 22nd, it became apparent that we have not taken enough action to stop our co-workers
from being killed for the sake of transmitting television pictures. On that day, a technician was killed as the mast on his van,
too, was raised and contacted fatal force. Others have been injured and killed in this fashion, as well. News accounts of
those incidents and subsequent discussion have been the method of our learning to be a bit more careful out on the street.
An ENG truck operator's last day on the job with the legs he was born with. A lesson that could've promoted change.
It was Tuesday, October 15th, 1985, just after 5:00am. Don Hayford was
positioning his van for a 6:00am live shot in front
of a mental hospital. He noticed trees and power lines potentially in the way of his microwave shot and moved up closer to the
end of the block. The road had a slight crown to it. It was still pretty dark out, but Don felt the trees weren't in the way, and
the wires were far enough off to be of no harm.
Fleet of foot, with an attitude of "gettin' it done", Don was running
in and out of the van, rarely, if ever, with his feet
touching the ground and the van at the same time. Having flipped the "Mast Up" lever on one of his trips, the mast was slowly
raised. There were no other people there, as the photog and reporter were due to show up soon in another vehicle.
On one trip into the van, Don noticed interference on all of his monitors.
He felt a bit eerie, jumped out, and looked out at the
mast. Any distance between the mast and the wires was hard to perceive. The crown in the road had placed the mast closer
than he had originally thought it would. Looking up using a flashlight, it was hard to see if there was actual contact. Don, feet
on the ground, grabbed the mast valve and actuated it to lower the mast.
"Running away is not the first thing I thought about", said Don. "You get in trouble for screwing up your truck."
He felt a shock from his contact with the valve, but had very little
real perception of what was happening as his knees bucked
and turned him around into a sitting position, butt on the step, feet on the ground, hand still on the lever.
Don's legs and feet became a path to ground for the 7500 volt wire his
mast contacted. "At that point I remembered just the
smoke and the flames and sparks," Don said, remembering that part of the incident, "like it was yesterday."
Don's feet were burning, his hand flailing wildly to the other side
of the doorway, causing arcing between his hand and the
frame of that side of the doorway. The mast was still lowering and eventually broke electrical contact.
"My legs were just tingling horribly," Don continued, "I had to get
away from the truck. I couldn't stand so I started rolling
away. I knew I had to call for help. I started screaming, could barely get the words out, and then humorously realized that
screams in front of a mental hospital would not exactly be the best way to get attention. I reached for my walkie-talkie. It
was then I noticed that the skin on the back of my hand was blistered and bubbly. The walkie-talkie worked and I told the
desk I needed help, and asked for an ambulance. My voice was very calm. I really didn't think much had happened."
As is typical, local stations listen to each other's radio calls. Another
station heard Don's transmission and they were the first
on the scene. Paramedics arrived soon after. At the hospital a nurses comment was the beginning of Don's perception of his
"This is a "no B.S." hospital, and you're hurt bad. We're doing all
we can to make you comfortable. You'll be upstairs in a bed
For friends, the "critical and unstable" condition report was their
start to their perception of his "new reality", too.
After ten operations, Don was left with one leg amputated above the knee and the other leg removed below his knee because
of burn damage.
Eight years later.
Al Battle was aware of the crown in the road in front of the courthouse
where he needed to set up a microwave transmission
for CNN. He selected a better spot in the magistrates parking lot to set up the truck, but was subsequently kicked out by a
building management representative.
The use of jacks to level the van had been discussed, as was putting
one side's wheels up on the curb. Battle, with over 12
years of experience, and labeled as the "most experienced" microwave technician by his employer, indicated he was aware
that it was a dangerous situation to his cameraman partner. This same partner figured that in the position Al ended up in with
the truck, he had to have been able to see the wires as he raised the mast. Al might have, but his mast made contact with a
19,900 volt line and at that moment, Al Battle was killed.
From the Washington Post: "The electrical charge sparked a three foot
wide ball of fire under the van. The force also
blasted a fourteen inch wide crater in the dirt where Battle's feet had touched the ground. The shock set Battle's sweat shirt
From the Washington Times: "Mr. Battle was barely recognizable after
the incident. His shoes had practically disintegrated,
his feet were clearly burned and his arms and legs were bent. The van's pole was slightly bent and blackened, and it's side
doors were chipped and charred at the corners."
Paige A. Prill, spokesperson for CNN, was quoted as saying: "Al Battle's
colleagues at CNN are deeply saddened by this tragic
loss to all of us. We will miss him."
A Global viewpoint.
There were indications of problems in both incidents. In Al Battle's,
for example, the fact that jacks were considered to be a
method of propping up the van to keep it away from the wires demonstrates a misunderstanding of the tools of the vehicle.
Certainly a jack failure or accidental contact by another vehicle causing such a failure, would cause the mast to tip and hit
the wires. Placing the vehicle on the curbing may have put the vehicle in a similar situation, where a few inches of accidental
movement could knock the vehicle off the curb and place the mast onto the wires. Contact is contact.
Distance between conductors and objects is an electrical industry acknowledged
hazard. Don Hayford and Al Battle were
victims of this hazard through lack of, or lack of execution of, training. Today it is doubtful that Don would touch a van that
exhibited the same video "interference" or had close proximity to wires. Practical training at a very expensive price.
One organization that deals with such training issues is the AVO Multi-Amp
Institute of Dallas, an organization dedicated to
OSHA electrical compliance auditing, training, and consulting. Mark Franks, an AVO instructor, related a story to me about a
drive through Waco, where he saw an ENG truck extending its mast near wires.
"I remember thinking to myself when I saw it, I bet that's a problem."
Further conversation with Franks revealed a few
perceptions of his that may be very common with others.
"News people are pro's. We view them as knowing the facts about safety
because they report on those facts. We view them as
being faultless about these things. We don't see them as ones who would be elevating their masts into lines."
According to a 1994 AVO Brochure, OSHA now requires training for mechanical
maintenance personnel, equipment operators,
machinists, warehouse employees, office personnel, mechanics and welders.
Franks went on to describe aspects of codes and guidelines that would apply to mast safety.
"There is enough guidance in the regulations today to cover clearances
and separation. The National Electrical Safety Code
states that the clearance for a 22,000 volt line over a driveway or parking lot is 20 feet. One present guideline for elevated
structure separation is that up to the first 50KV on a line, you need to be 10 feet away. For every 10KV over that, add
another 4 inches to that distance. Looking at an extreme, 500,000 volt lines are within reach of 42 foot masts.
"It's definitely the responsibility of the [employer] to train these people."
Remember the perception problem with Don Hayford's assessment of his
distance? A ten foot gap forty-plus feet off the
ground is tough to measure, but if the gap were only half of that, it would have been safer than the gap that was presumably
there. That's what codes do. Even rough around the edges, they promote and provide relative safety.
"High voltage isn't the only danger," Franks added. "There are more
people killed in low voltage rather than high voltage
accidents. (low is under 600V) I guess the difference is really defined by an open or closed casket funeral."
Great Big Red Flags.....
Continued research found further "red flags" in our industry. James
Burke, a former Corporate Director of Environmental
Health and Safety for the Providence Journal Company, had been involved in safety operations for over 16 years, mostly in a
manufacturing environment when interviewed. Broadcasting was new to him at the time. Our conversation started off with a
"There I was, brand new to the industry. I started looking to see what's out there [for safety] and I wasn't finding much.
"In my professional life I've had to deal with four fatalities. Three
of those were building fall-offs where the split second
decision not to fasten a safety line proved to be fatal. Those split second decisions not to do the safe thing can be deadly.
"I'm concerned about the lack of industry specific guidelines, given the amounts of hazards the industry has."
Serious injuries and death, inconsequential to the acquisition of television
pictures, indicate that all of us should be
concerned about the lack of specific guidelines and training in our industry. There is a need to work on a system that will
make Al Battle the last person to get killed by electricity while working on a news shot. This system of protection will also
benefit any innocent parties who may have "casual contact" with our industry's equipment.
Operators and Manufacturers speak out.
A consciousness develops after accidents, whether they cause severe
injuries or fatalities. Crews have historically become
more careful, and some managers have encouraged a more cautious approach to duties. Unfortunately, like a wave, this
consciousness fades away as people forget the shock and horror of the incident. From another angle, similar to that "wave,"
manufacturers have emphasized safety for years, and have tried to pass the subject on to the buyers of their vehicles. The
problem is that once the original shine wears off the new truck, the rules of hazard avoidance have historically worn off as
TV stations have had difficult times financially, and may not be prioritizing
safety training for their employees. I spoke to
employees that didn't mind being quoted in this article, but others however, provided facts and opinions that was felt would
jeopardize their standing at their place of work, and requested their comments remain anonymous. Safety issues are touchy
issues in many working environments. Managers sometimes confuse fear with attitude, and when an employee sees danger, he
or she is not always acknowledged with understanding.
From one veteran technician: "I refused to put up the mast for a feed
in conditions where I felt threatened by lightning. We
were in an area during severe thunderstorms in which the mast was the tallest thing around. The News Director told me that
I'd be fired if I didn't put up the mast. It took a site visit by engineering supervisors to back me up so I wouldn't have to risk
my life, and the life of the reporter outside holding onto the metal mic."
Manufacturers are very concerned and experienced with issues of safety.
While equipment upgrades have fueled the
development of new designs in vehicles, safety, too, has been a key.
During interviews for this series, the comments regarding awareness
of safety became repetitive. Everyone wants to build a
safe vehicle. Everyone wants to be a safe operator. Everyone wants their employees to return home after a remote event. Does
everyone sustain the environment to fulfill those wants?
Tall tales and short cuts.
"Safety training...are you kidding me? In television?" "It's nothing
anybody's even ever suggested. Training is so, well,
anti-television. Our news director doesn't care about anything related to our needs," offered an ENG technician.
Ted Kendricks from ENG Mobile Systems of Concord California spoke on
what he's been seeing in our trade from the
manufacturer's point of view. His company has been in the business of building ENG News vehicles for 20 years, and was one
of the first in the business.
"There's a transition taking place with personnel, maybe we're going
to see more accidents. There have been cost cutbacks,
maintenance has gone to hell....They [managers and their employees] become so complacent they are dangerous to themselves.
"All of the manufacturers tackled the issue differently, but with the
same purpose, I'm not sure if the industry has offered
any sort of training, but I know there have been a few serious injuries. When you hear of one, you kind of wonder what
difference it would have made if there had been 4 hours of safety training.
"Every warning and safety device can be defeated. In one case truck
operators jumped the "mast down" plunger switches
because the ignition would cut out after they hit a bump. Bumps made the mast go up a fraction of an inch which took the
weight off the switch. They never said it was a problem, they just got rid of the symptom without telling their manager. How
can management respond to a situation they know nothing of?"
There is a fear in some stations of reporting problems to management.
Nobody wants to be the person that's always reporting
Remember Don Hayford's thoughts just before he changed his life by touching
the mast control when his mast was in contact
with the power wires? "Running away is not the first thing I thought about, you get in trouble for screwing up your truck."
Education is expensive only when the cost of repair is not.
Ron Caron, of WHDH in Boston, trains crew people in truck operations.
"I have one rule that is absolute. The first thing you
do when you get out of the truck is look up. If I'm training a person and they don't do this, it's a dead giveaway they need
more training, period."
Sounds kind of strong, restricted? Here is a story from Ron's background
that affirms his technique. He didn't have to go far
to get it.
Bill Holbrook, also of WHDH, has spent 12 years in ENG vans. He describes
himself as a lucky guy after a mast/power line
incident in the mid 80's, before training was required. He told us the story of what went wrong one night in his truck.
"It was January, a Friday night, and snowing very hard. I was assigned
with a photographer to go out to Framingham (20+
miles west of Boston) and feed a shot of the heavy weather activity and some tape back to the station. During the feed we
had some IFB screw-ups, some tape problems and other hassles. It wasn't a good night even without the weather factor."
Bill went on to describe the tension. The weather was rough for everybody.
Field crews and the news staff inside were at
opposite ends of the same problem. If it's tough to get the feed in, it's tough to coordinate the show on the air. People lose
their composure under these circumstances. This time was no different.
"I had activated the mast-lower lever and the photographer was packing
up his equipment. I was sitting in the drivers seat
talking to the people back at the station regarding the problem-filled feed. The "mast up" dashboard warning lights went out.
The photographer finished packing, and he got into the passenger seat. I never bothered to look up. We drove off, then BAM!
All I remember seeing is a huge blue explosion above the roof, then a big crash. It turned out that my mast had frozen in the
weather and while the warning lights went out, all they signified was that my air pressure had lowered, but the mast had not.
"We were lucky. All we hit was a street light power line, relatively
low voltage. The mast had snapped and disconnected from
the line. Perhaps because of our speed it happened too quick to cause a fatal shock.
"The worst part of this, once I realized we were all right, was the phone call back to the station."
Bill explained that his manager was smart about such incidents, and
the penalty for lying was much more severe than simply
telling the truth about the circumstances. It still wasn't easy.
"This is not a 100% safe job," related Bill, now many years after his
accident. "It's those little things that can kill you. Every
day, every time, you have to recognize things can happen."
Richard Wolf, of Wolf Coach, Auburn, Mass. added to Bill's opinion:
"Training is a mentality that has to be taught and
continually reinforced. There has to be aids and reminders for safety. One report said that Al Battle was on the roof
observing clearance before his accident. Whether this is true or not, if you're that close, you're already in the wrong place."
Engineering and practicing safety.
Jack Vines of Television Engineering Corporation in Missouri had a good
point of view that takes in a lot of characteristics of
the news business.
"Safety starts with the manufacturer in terms of good equipment design.
Then you [manufacturer] maintain this safety
through engineering of safety devices and procedural characteristics to promote safety to the operator. Next you must go
through the News Directors to allow them to understand the potential penalties of rushes and risks. Finally, you need to go to
the operator to stress safety and common sense. It's not a one man band, everyone has to work together. I've seen some
outstanding stories, but never one worth getting a person seriously hurt."
Richard Wolf added: "There are two areas of concern from our point of
view. First is the procedure from a safety standpoint
and how we build safety into a vehicle. The next is the management of the operator, and what they are taught as being OK or
not OK. It's usual that we see trucks equipped with the spring loaded air valve come in for service, and right next to the valve
handle is the "prop stick".
Prop sticks allow operation contrary to design, and sometimes safety
philosophies. Ted Kendricks' company will not place the
mast up/down handle in the front technical compartment of the truck. In order to raise the mast, one has to open a rear door
and activate the system. From there a technician can view the relationship of the mast and any objects in consideration of the
crown of the road.
John Premack, Chief Photographer of WCVB in Boston, has been performing
news related work for over twenty years. He has
been published in The Communicator and other industry publications. From a piece John wrote about Cara Crosby, a
technician involved in a mast/power-line accident in 1986: "Sometimes the rush to get a story on the air causes us to overlook
routine operating procedures. While safety usually involves just common sense, it's a subject we tend to take for granted.
News crews don't operate in a free fire zone. The job of covering the news includes an obligation to avoid endangering
anyone who wanders within a crew's impact area."
Cara Crosby was quoted in the article by shedding some useful light
on the issue we still have today, 8 years later: "We try to
depend on our training, intelligence and knowledge, but accidents are unpredictable."
Unpredictable because we get distracted? Unpredictable because we stray
away from standards? Unpredictable because we
A safety feature on Wolf Coach's mechanical mast is the hold down buttons
that control the up/down functions. One cannot
help from looking up while raising or lowering just to see if it's there yet.
WCVB recently purchased a vehicle equipped with the mast and associated
"safer" control device. I spoke with ENG
technician Bob Armitage of WCVB, who favors safety. Recently, the article about Al Battle was posted on news crews lockers
and may have given the crews a good reason to reevaluate any questionable
procedures. "It's a big waste of time when you're
rushing at a location to set up and you're holding this button for 3-4 minutes, but it gives you time to look up. For that reason,
it's a good idea. I like it."
Bill Holbrook now operates a similarly equipped van and agreed with
Bob's statement. He perhaps summed it up best with his
comment: "I've grown to live with it."
Society and Accidents. The legal viewpoints and realities.
Questions are asked in many accident situations in order to point society
towards non-repetition of accident "events". From
the answers developed, codes are created. Codes create specification for compliance with laws in areas of potential danger
to property, ourselves, and others. History has shown us that penalties and severe punishment are ways to gain compliance
with codes. That takes a lot of time, and many more accidents typically occur in that time.
In 1987, the Chicago Tribune printed an article regarding occupational
safety. The article mentioned that an average of
3,700 people were killed and 5.3 million injured annually at work sites in the United States, and how criminal statutes were
being "weaved" into safety violation prosecution.
Prosecutors were seeking criminal penalties when they could show that
company officials disregarded the safety of workers.
The article went on further to describe how executives were fined and jailed for "causing" fatalities. These deaths were
from perils like those that we face in our industry, such as carbon monoxide poisoning and electrocution.
The costs of liability and lack of safety in different industries are
still serious issues today, as they always have been to
victims and their colleagues, family members and friends. There are no cut and dried definitions of liability and negligence.
In our legal system, the enforcing authorities and the court system create the definitions of liability or negligence, and by
what degree, in every case.
In Al Battle's case, Potomac Television was fined $7000 for Al's working
"in close proximity to 19,000 volt overhead power
line(s), for which the employer did not train employee(s) on the requirements of the "Overhead High Voltage Line Safety
Act". In other citations related to Al's accident, the company was fined $450 and $450 for not providing warning signs on
the inside and outside of the vehicle, $300 for not providing a first aid kit, and cited, without a fine, for not having a fully
charged fire extinguisher aboard.
Simply stated to the layperson, it appears that the most expensive citation
from the Virginia Department of Labor and
Industry indicated that education about power risks is most essential. The citations may also be interpreted to mean that
reminders of education in the form of signs is important. Further down the list, but close to the importance of signs, is the
need for a first aid kit. Last of all the on-board fire extinguisher should be charged and operable.
The interpretation of these citations could change. The fines can be
appealed by Potomac Television or anyone else under
similar citing. The results, however, do not change. Al Battle will not come back, just like other similarly injured people cannot
change the effects of their injuries.
In 1996, Potomac completed a very comprehensive safety manual and instituted
a strict safety program. Research for this
article indicated that similar moves were made in 1986 after Cara Crosby's injuries. While helping on an immediate and local
scale, the absence of an ongoing national program, and mandatory repetition of training as part of this program, will only
perpetuate many short term solutions, after, and only in cause by, needless injuries and deaths.
One legal opinion.
Attorney Thomas J. Callahan, of Cohasset, MA. has familiarity with many
areas of law and provided some non-specific
overviews of the issue.
"Negligence," per Attorney Callahan, "is a breach of duty owed by someone
to another to act with reasonable care as an
ordinarily prudent person would do under the same circumstances. The duty to use reasonable care extends to those
consequences which are, or should reasonably be, foreseeable by the party against whom negligence is claimed.
"Comparative or contributory negligence is that negligence committed
by the injured party, which wholly or partially
contributed to the injury suffered."
Attorney Callahan gave us an opinion of where he feels the rank of responsibility
lies. 1) Employers. The primary duty in safe
operation is on the employer. It seems incumbent upon the employer to insure that ENG operators and crews are properly
trained in use, operation, and safety precautions. 2) Operators. With the important pre-condition of proper training met,
operators bear a great deal of responsibility on their own safety. Operators have the "last clear chance", to avoid injury. 3)
Manufacturer's. The major source of potential liability of manufacturer's is potential to warn. Manufacturer's have a general
duty to make a product as safe as possible and give all necessary warnings. Usually this duty extends to the end-users of a
product and cannot be simply discharged by conveying a warning to the employer and hope that it is conveyed to the
operators. 4) Power Companies. Aside from violations of issues such as height of lines, power companies bear little potential
liability. Even if notified of a news vehicles presence in an area, it is doubtful if any jury would find a duty of the power
company to shut off power for the temporary convenience of the TV station.
Effects to the workplace:
In any workplace, it's very costly for an employer to lose a worker
due to injury and face charges of negligence. Al Battle
was a 12 year veteran, the most experienced person Potomac had. In the news arena, where experience means contacts,
connections, area familiarity, and an ability to get into a place a less experienced person may not be able to, it's hard to
measure "replacement" and "value".
Al St. Peter is a Senior Project Manager in the construction industry
for CAFCO Development, Inc. in MA. He looked at safety
procedures in that industry, one of multiple hazard environments, where "losses" take a lot of time from project completion,
and are visibly expensive. He spoke from a perspective that our industry can relate to.
"We knew safety in the industry was a responsibility, but it wasn't
a focus at any particular time," commented Al. He
contributed to a "Loss Control Manual" that calls for weekly supervisor's meetings to deal specifically with safety issues.
Meetings usually concentrate on a single subject such as scaffolding, hand tool safety, or underground utilities, to name a
few. The repetitive program is successful.
"It's clear that these guys proceed with their job assignments with
a constant vigilance towards safety as a number one
priority," continues Al. "This attitude permeates the entire workforce including subs, vendors and onsite visitors.
"Construction workers do the same things over and over every day, and
therefore can easily get complacent about safety.
Safety issues frequently slip down the priority list depending on external issues, the hour of the day, or the day of the week.
These issues, and motivation for profit, are sometimes tolerated as reasons for shortcuts. In the conscientious environment,
they are all unacceptable excuses."
There is a certain "after incident" awareness that we all have, as pointed
out earlier in this series. in the discussion with Al,
he stressed constant repetition with a variety of methods and stimulations. For instance, there are only so many days a person
will read the same yellow and black warning signs in the same places. A change in color or location can attract enough
attention to be an effective reiteration of a warning message. But warning signs aren't enough.
"Ongoing education is the key. You must maintain that commitment, maintain
that edge," he concluded.
A model for TV News safety.
One broadcast group, AFLAC, based in Columbus, GA maintains their "edge"
by stressing mandatory education and training.
AFLAC has seven stations and strict guidelines for ENG van operators that is respected from the top management level on
down, a big indicator of a company's overall regard for safety.
Their training consists of electrical safety education, basics of operation
of the specific ENG van, vehicle operational
procedures and technical descriptions of the van's equipment.
Once the educational process is completed, the potential operator must
pass a long written test and then a "zero-tolerance"
operations test. One safety related mistake and the test is over, and supplemental training scheduled.
Nobody is permitted to drive an ENG van without a training certification,
even for a gas run. One has to pass all the tests and
stay current on AFLAC's guidelines. If there is an incident, or a lapse in working assignments taking a tech away from ENG
duties for a long period of time, their certification may be pulled until there is an update in training, or retesting.
LaVaughn Thompson, Vice President of Engineering for AFLAC, commented specifically on teamwork and training.
"The best training and operating procedures in the world will fail unless
all concerned follow prescribed procedures. The
individual out there raising that mast must always place safety before any news story. As we tell our students during the
training, "No story is worth losing your life." Producers back at the newsroom must also understand that it might take a few
extra minutes for the van operator to pick out a safe site, or to relocate the truck if the operator feels there might even be
the slightest safety concern. The producer must allow for this and not "rush" the operator into an unsafe operating mode.
"Speed Kills" not only applies to highway situations, it also applies to ENG setup procedures.
There is no doubt that ENG crews face dangerous situations. It must
be acknowledged that in every incident, the damage
done, or injuries suffered, could have been prevented. We, as an industry also need to acknowledge that we are not stupid
people, or blind to such obvious dangers. Most times it has been distractions and the devotion towards getting it done that
injured and killed our colleagues. As teammates for the cause, we all must pitch in to make sure our employees and co-workers
have the time and clear mind to take just one more look. It may be a matter of life or death.
Richard Wolf of Wolf Coach, while having never broadcast a frame of
video, knows the players in our industry at many levels.
He may have put it best: "These people are nothing, if not creative. They can create a way to perform the job and stay safe."
AFLAC's safety program.
"USER ACKNOWLEDGES RESPONSIBILITY FOR RETURNING THIS MANUAL IN GOOD
CONDITION TO THE
ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT OR FACE AUTOMATIC FORFEITURE OF UP TO $50.00 FROM PAYCHECK" is how the AFLAC
ENG van operations manual starts. This safety thing is serious business in the AFLAC Broadcast Division's world.
AFLAC is a large company that, among other business practices, owns
seven TV stations. Headquartered in Columbus Georgia,
the Broadcast Division includes WTOC, WAFF, KFVS, KWWL, WITN, WAFB and WTVM-TV.
One interpretation of their serious attitude and discipline may be that
if you cannot take care of a $50.00 book, it may be a
warning sign that you should not be trusted with a $250,000.00 van. Want to earn double the fine money and, more than
likely, live to a ripe old age as an ENG van tech? Pass the test. They'll give you a certification, $100.00 as a cash incentive,
and enough knowledge that, if used, will allow for longevity.
The training manuals, customized for every station, have a similar structure.
The table of contents includes topics such as:
THE ENG CERTIFICATION PROGRAM introduction, PURPOSE OF ENG/EFP VEHICLES, HOW THE AUDIO AND VIDEO GET
BACK TO THE STUDIO, SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN VEHICLES, OPERATION
OF [station's specific
ENG vehicle(s)], PREPARATION CHECKLIST FOR A LIVE SHOT, DANGERS OF ENG/EFP VEHICLES, SETTING UP A
TYPICAL LIVE SHOT - A SUMMARY, A FINAL WORD, ILLUSTRATIONS, and ATTACHMENTS.
Just to give you an idea on depth of safety concern, the "dangers" section
in the manual reviewed had 5 parts: Electrocution
from mast contact with live wires, Electrocution from generator and/or ENG/EFP equipment, Lightning hazards, Carbon
Monoxide poisoning, and Hazards for bystanders.
After the contents page, one finds a map covering the three general
operating radii of the receiving and repeating towers
followed by the Introduction. The following is the Introduction to this safety program, as it appears in the manual used as
reference for this report. We should look very closely at this as "the way it should be," universally, for introducing ENG
technicians to the realities of the "field" working environment. "State of the art ENG - Electronic News Gathering - with its
magical ability to take the viewer live to the scene of a news event, can be for the news person, exciting, exhilarating,
"Since its inception about  years ago, the live ENG van has proven
to be one of televisions most valuable news gathering
tools - and its most dangerous. Throughout the years, vans, antennas, and mast poles, have been destroyed through accidents
that resulted from carelessness of the operator, failure of the safety equipment, rushing the clock, and plain old bad luck.
And most importantly, persons have been seriously burned, operators have lost arms and legs, and some have died.
"News, in general, is a serious business, and ENG news must be approached
with all the seriousness and awareness that the
operator can muster. By far, the most catastrophic form of personal injury in this ENG work comes from the potential for
electrocution and electrical fire.
"The job is compounded by the fact that quite often, the news event
takes the operator and his equipment to less than ideal
broadcast conditions. Power lines are often obscured by darkness, tree limbs or the glare of sunlight. Uneven ground can
cause the mast to lean in unpredictable angles, and faulty electrical cables used in wet weather offer lethal risks. Heavy
rains, winds and lightening, all contribute to the overall dangers the ENG newsperson faces.
"Add all of the above mentioned hazards, along with endless natural
and man-made hazards yet to be uncovered, mix with the
daily race to cover the news "first", and you have the proverbial "accident waiting to happen".
"How can we combat all of this potential for harm and conduct safe and
successful news shots? The answer is knowledge -
knowledge of what the known dangers are, and how to spot the unknown. Knowledge of the systems and how to operate them
properly even under the pressures of the clock. And along with this important know-ledge, your next best defense is good old
common sense - looking and thinking before you act.
"To aid you in gathering the necessary knowledge to safely perform this
modern ENG magic, [the AFLAC station] has
instituted a training program. This program will carry you to a level of expertise where you will earn a corporate-issued ENG
Operators certificate. Without this certificate, no one - positively no one - will be permitted to operate, or even crank up, any
of our ENG vans.
"This ENG certification Program is designed to accomplish two major
goals: a)Safety Awareness - An In-depth Study Of The
Safety Aspects Of ENG Vans And Related Equipment. b) ENG Operating Proficiency - Understanding The Basic Principles Of
Operating ENG Systems For Better Utilization.
"The first of these goals, Safety Awareness, is the most important of
the two. Safety always comes first - even before any
"It is the primary responsibility of the ENG operator to recognize the
safety hazards that are inherent while using ENG
equipment and to constantly be suspicious and watchful for the myriad of potential hazards that lurk, literally, in the
"During this training program, we will study the hazards, learn about
how the professional "looks" for the hidden dangers,
and establish safe operating procedures (which will become second nature to all who operate the ENG equipment).
"The second goal - ENG Operating Proficiency - is designed to establish
confidence in the operator by teaching him/her how
the system works...how to set-up the shot you want, quickly and efficiently, thereby eliminating the dangerous rushing and
frustration that the in-experienced operator often faces, especially during the "push" to cover a fast breaking news story
"The safety of [the AFLAC station's] personnel is our foremost concern.
ENG equipment is here to stay in our industry, so we
must do all we can to learn how to use it safely and effectively. One method is a training program, such as we are outlining,
that will help to insure the safety of our personnel through knowledge and established safe practices.
"The "bottom line" of this endeavor, is for [the AFLAC station] to develop
careful, capable, and confident ENG news people
as operators. With that as our ultimate goal, let us begin."
That introduction contains more information about ENG than many operators
have ever been exposed to by their management.
The inside story.
Yesterday's innovations have been turned into today's standard operating
procedures. Subject matter that has literally been
invented by the pioneers of the profession, those who started with ENG trucks back in the 70's, is detailed in an easy to
read, comprehensive format within the manual. Line of sight transmission characteristics are detailed in a step by step
procedure, then followed by information about antennas, sidelobes, AGC levels, reflector theory, bounce shots and
characteristics, and finally, effective use of the link, once established.
Just when you think you are in the clear, finally getting to real big-time
show biz, comes another safety chapter. This one on
electrical hazards, quickly followed by hints on "Breaking Down The Shot" once all is done. This is very helpful for the
engineering and legal departments as it details the slow and thoughtful packing up procedure, with hints such as shutting
down equipment before powering down the generator, and having cables in full view while reeling them in to protect anyone
from a trip hazard.
The next twenty-plus pages of this manual have pictures of specific
pieces of equipment, accompanied by a small amount of
written description detailing an item or two about the photo.
Complete? Comprehensive? Well, take into consideration that this manual
was dated May 14, 1988 and the only problems or
accidents reported for this article were labeled as "stupid" items, such as lessons on the laws of physics by navigating
nine-foot clearances in the garage with eleven-foot vehicles.
Another part of the safety program is the "Instructors Guide" which
details consistent points of focus that the instructor will
go over with a trainee. Everything from lightening strikes (They do occur in the same place twice, just ask your tower) to
carbon monoxide and worn electrical equipment hazards are topics for review. There is also mention that equipment has been
tested and found within ANSI guidelines for employee safety.
A videotape from the power company on electrical hazards and safety also accompanies the learning process.
LaVaughn Thompson, VP of engineering of AFLAC was an ENG tech. He commented
on the management challenges in these
days of aggressive news competition.
"It's sometimes difficult to get the news department to take [field
challenges] seriously. The only way is to get top
management to say "You shall......"
"With all of the peripherals and distractions, ENG is a very dangerous
thing. If there is a problem, you've got to respect the
judgement of the [people] in the field." It is those same people in the field that should be reminded time to time of issues of
safety and equipment care and value. It is human to become complacent, and for those who consistently stand on the front
line, it can be easy to gloss over the basics. Managers must know safety issues and be involved. The program that AFLAC's
stations use set up a standard that all can refer to, and therefore be reminded of. Those in the industry who do not have
similar programs can only use the bad experiences of others as reminders of the dangers.
At AFLAC stations, from top management to the field people, there is
a respect for the equipment and the judgement of its
use. By setting up this sort of structure, it is anticipated that safety guidelines, and the discipline of their obeyance, will
become "second nature".
As they have provided us a model for education and training, AFLAC also
has provided the foundation of structure of such a
model by starting at the top and working down. AFLAC feels that ENG safety in our industry is very important, and has
offered to send any TV station a copy of AFLAC's training manual, and grant the rights to use all or any part of it without
charge. (This was discontinued in April 1997 when AFLAC Broadcast stations were sold to Raycom.)
Many stations and individuals have recieved the manual. Lives are being
The AFLAC Certification Test.
The first question on the test is one of your integrity. You need to
agree not to divulge questions, answers, or the nature of
the test with anyone in order not to compromise the integrity of the process. To breach the agreement is to subject yourself
to revocation of your ENG certification, and face possible further disciplinary action by the station involved. Suffice it to
say that the test is challenging, has various question formats, and at times, provides answers to questions that stress absolute
safety for the public, the operators and the equipment.
The knowledge involved to pass the test requires knowledge of, but not
limited to: materials, conductivity, physics, electrical
logic, electricity, transmission characteristics, vehicle driving, TV news and studio procedures, safety, and specifics of that
particular station's equipment.
NATIONAL CERTIFICATION PROGRAM NEEDED NOW.
Let's face it. Nothing can ever totally protect ourselves from ourselves
if we are negligent. The move to certify operators
means there is education involved in the process. The fact education is in the process will allow for us to have continuing
education, repetitive reminders, and protective teamwork. Training alone is not sufficient.
Harry Featherstone, past Chairman and C.E.O. of The Will-Burt Company,
one of the manufacturers of telescoping masts for
ENG trucks, commented about training. His statements supported the fact that training is fairly easy, however the most
effective training occurs with education. He then cited a humorous example which also suggested the price of errors. "Would
you rather have your son and daughter in high school sex education or in high school sex training?
More than one knowledgeable person on a site can dramatically reduce
frequency of incidents, and will, if we start educating
the members of our profession in how they can spot trouble. While two person technical crews are not financially possible for
some stations, every news field person can be made aware of the basics. Many reporters are not aware of the potential perils
of field work, and for them there is no specific training applicable, even though they, too, work in the danger-zone.
The old got-to-have-an-FCC-license-to-work-at-a station qualification
has gone by the boards. While some say it is justified,
others feel it has flooded the industry with operators who are uneducated in the basics of the broadcast environment.
Business basics and profit motivation do not indemnify stations from the harm that the lack of training presents. We are
suffering, and will suffer more when liability suits become costly. In a world of multimillion dollar liability settlements, I'd
select training as the alternative to hoping it won't happen to us.
The universal application of a national certification program, perhaps
on levels for reporters, operators and engineers, is one
step our industry can take to prevent deaths, injuries, tremendous liability issues and subsequent penalties.
Hiring an ENG certified person, like FCC First Class licensed operators
were hired in the past, or training people for such
certification, will keep us on course as an industry that should keep ourselves from becoming our own news.
Most of this text was published in the July, August, September and October
1994 issues of Television Broadcast
and was rewritten for the 1997 National Press Photographers Association Workshop in Oklahoma, a great supporter of