A call for safe practices

As we begin 2006, designers, installers, and users of structured cabling systems may face more challenges, and challenging questions, than at any time in the past.

As we begin 2006, designers, installers, and users of structured cabling systems may face more challenges, and challenging questions, than at any time in the past.

I often think about the questions these individuals are asking themselves, and each other, on a regular basis. “When will this system need to handle the next upgrade in transmission speed, either to Gigabit or 10 Gigabit?” “How will I know if the system can handle that upgrade?” “Would a wireless LAN fill a need in this network?” “How secure is the data running across the wireless network I’m already using?” “Could/would/should I deploy the Power over Ethernet technology that people can’t stop talking about?”

And lately, one series of questions has become the proverbial other shoe dropping on the industry: “How much abandoned cable is in this building, how much of a threat does it pose, and how in the world am I going to deal with it?”

In the past, you may have read in this space my thoughts and pleas about removing abandoned cabling. This month, you’ll see more of it (if you keep reading), but not before I climb on a soapbox and preach about a couple of other topics as well.

While I really believe those first questions, and the ones about abandoned cabling, are asked quite frequently these days, I doubt that very many people in this industry ask, “Are all the firewall penetrations in this building properly stopped?” I just don’t think it gets asked that often. Nor do I believe very many people stop to wonder about the chemical compounds that make up the cable running inside, behind, and through those walls.

In this month’s issue, we give front-and-center attention to a couple of topics that approach safety from very different angles. In the article that begins on page 12, Jim Stahl, Sr. gives a firsthand account of the task he and his company embarked upon to develop a firestopping system for the Pentagon in the wake of 2001’s terrorist attack on the building. When I asked Jim to contribute an article about firestopping, we tossed around a couple of ideas, and this one eventually came up. I hope that, as someone who installs or uses firestopping systems, you find it as insightful and informative as I have found it. It got me thinking about the topic in ways that I had not before, and served to reinforce my belief that this discipline deserves respect, recognition, publicity, etc.-not only from the cabling industry’s publications, but also from the entire food chain of professionals in the trade.

Later in this issue, regular contributor Betsy Ziobron takes us from A to Z on the subject of RoHS-the European initiative Restriction of Hazardous Substances. She makes the point that we should sit up and pay attention to RoHS not just to have an interest in global issues, but because the initiative’s effects likely will reach right into your structured cabling systems. In addition to the fact that worldwide suppliers will alter their product lines across the board, she points out that several U.S. states currently have legislative initiatives under consideration that could restrict the materials that can go into your buildings. While much of the electronics industry has been beaten over the collective head with the mantra “lead-free” for quite some time, it is much newer to the cabling world. And I believe that, like the electronics industry, ours will balance the need to make its products safer with the need to make them reliable, though it will be easier said than done and won’t happen overnight.

Even within the confines of the cabling trade, the concept of safety is variegated. Safely firestopped walls, safer cables with fewer heavy metals, and safe working environments that are rid of outdated, unused and potentially dangerous cables all play a part. So do such practices as proper bodily protection in certain environments, and proper termination and disposal of optical-cabling components in particular.

I’d like to see 2006 unfold as a year in which the idea of safety emerges from several different corners of the cabling industry and takes on increased significance. It’s all fine and good for that to be on my wish list, but it will only come to fruition if it’s a priority for you as well.

PATRICK McLAUGHLIN
Chief Editor
patrick@pennwell.com

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