Fiber optic cables were designed to enhance voice and data communication in many different applications. The flexibility of the technology is extraordinary, and advances in methods of communication have revealed even more uses for fiber optics. Compromise on any of the following points will introduce invisible health dangers can take extended periods of time to diagnose.
- No food or drink – Tiny glass fibers can be in the air whenever fiber optics are being created or installed. A simple drink of water can carry glass shards into the throat and down the esophagus where they can cause lacerations and internal hemorrhages.
- Wear safety glasses – Every person in the area must wear safety glasses with side shields to prevent fiber shards and splinters from entering the eyes. People, who wear glasses, must still wear safety glasses.
- Wear protective aprons – All workers should be clothed in disposable lab aprons to reduce the fiber particles that collect on personal clothing. If particles collect on clothing, they will be ingested later through food, drink or breathing in air.
- Avoid fiber ends – There are reasons to look through a fiber cable, but care must be exercised to ensure that there is visible light coming through the cable. Prior to looking into the end of a cable, use an optical tracer or continuity checker to determine if the fiber is dark. A power meter will verify that there is no light source at the other end of the cable.
- Contact lens wearers – Beware! – After handling fiber optics, someone who wears contact lenses must wash their hands very thoroughly before handling their contact lenses. Glass shards can lodge in the surface of the eye and cause lacerations.
- Keep hands away from face – Many people have a habit of touching their face with their hands for no apparent reason. This action must be avoided when working with fiber optics. Tiny splinters from the fibers can penetrate the soft skin on the face and be very difficult to remove.
- Well-ventilated area – Breathing clean air is an important part of a safe working environment. Fiber optic cables have many tiny glass particles that are dislodged when the cables are moved for any reason. A well-ventilated area will allow the particles to move away from the people working with the fibers.
- No combustible materials – Fusion splicers and curing ovens can cause flammable materials to combust. Caution must be taken to ensure that there are no dangerous materials used near this equipment.
- Dispose of scraps – Tossing unused lengths of fiber on the floor is a safety hazard that must be avoided. Not only can people trip, but walking on those scraps causes particles to be dislodged and enter the air.
- Clean up afterward – A systematic cleaning effort for the entire work area will ensure the safety of everyone involved.
As new technicians enter the workforce, the importance of safety protocols cannot be overemphasized. Each person must adopt the best practices for safe handling of all fiber optic components to preserve the healthy and safe environment for everyone on the team.