Good communication is vital to running a safe and efficient construction project. But, how do you achieve that amid the noise and multifaceted demands of the average jobsite? Construction sites are typically characterized by heavy equipment in constant motion and limited visibility. In this environment, a missed warning or misunderstood instruction can have costly—or even tragic—consequences.
Recent advancements in technology have made wireless communication headsets an effective tool for facilitating communication, improving productivity and increasing safety on construction sites. The benefits of wireless headsets include:
- clear and continuous communication during the performance of shared tasks
- improved teamwork and increased mobility
- the ability to provide verbal warnings in real time
- fewer accidents and lower insurance costs
- the ability for construction crews to get more done in less time
By adopting wireless headsets as an integral component of jobsite communication, construction companies will not only enjoy a safer work environment, but also develop a more cohesive and productive crew.
Too Much Noise
Whatever the project might be, construction sites share one thing in common: noise. By some estimates, as many as 750,000 construction workers are exposed to potentially hazardous levels of noise every day. Many construction tools emit noise levels above 110 decibels—far beyond the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) permissible average daily limit of 85 decibels. Add to that the sounds of trucks or other heavy equipment, and the noise can quickly rise to dangerous levels. This is of particular concern on construction sites, because excessive noise interferes with communication and the ability to warn others of impending danger; makes it harder for work crews to complete tasks efficiently and on time; and places workers at risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss.
Hearing Protection Alone Is Not Enough
If hearing protection were the only consideration, the problem could be solved with a set of earplugs. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Although much attention has been paid in recent years to hearing conservation, noise is a multifaceted problem that can affect a construction company’s bottom line in numerous, unexpected ways. In addition to hearing loss, a document published by OSHA in 2005 reports that excessive noise exposure has been linked to decreased concentration, reduced efficiency, ulcers, high blood pressure, aggression, low morale and fatigue.
Research in occupational safety shows that poor communication is a major cause of construction accidents. If construction supervisors and crew members cannot communicate, either because of excessive background noise or lack of proximity, they cannot work safely or efficiently. Ironically, while earplugs and earmuffs mitigate the effects of harmful noise, they can actually make a construction site more hazardous because they reduce situational awareness and make it harder for crew members to hear each other. Communication on a construction site often requires shouting, hand signals or two-way radios—all of which have limitations. Shouting can cause dangerous misunderstandings; hand signals require line-of-sight visibility; and two-way radios may intensify the interference of background noise. Given this kind of communication environment, it is hardly a surprise that construction is often cited as one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the U.S. The situation presents a troublesome problem: how to simultaneously protect workers from dangerous noise, improve situational awareness and maintain good communication.
Investing in Safety
While hearing protection, situational awareness and good communication appear to be mutually exclusive, wireless communication headsets are central to the achievement of all three objectives. Wireless headsets can reduce background noise by 20 decibels or more and still allow all crew members to communicate clearly. Headsets fit over the ears for hearing protection and are outfitted with a boom microphone and ear speakers to allow voice communication through a mobile base station. In more advanced systems, the local headset network can be connected to remote locations via two-way radio.
The premise of a wireless headset system is simple: Everyone can hear and be heard, and no one is exposed to harmful levels of noise. This allows construction crews to stay in continuous contact, talk in normal voices without shouting or gesturing, and provide real-time verbal warnings in dangerous situations. Unlike two-way radios, wireless headsets operate hands-free in full-duplex mode. There is no need to hold a microphone, fumble with a push-to-talk button or wait for one party to clear the channel before initiating conversation. Communication over wireless headsets is just like a telephone call: continuous, convenient and conversational.
Construction accounts for 6 percent of employment and 20 percent of occupational fatalities in the U.S. Studies have shown that as much as 80 percent of construction and industrial accidents are due to human error, not—as some suppose—faulty equipment. As safety specialist Gordon Dupont has noted in his famed Dirty Dozen list of human factor errors, one of the most common errors is lack of communication. Occupational safety research routinely cites poor communication as a leading cause of accidents involving everything from forklifts and cranes to mining and pipeline construction. Despite a tremendous diversity of circumstances, all of these incidents share one truth: Tragedy could have been avoided if the work crews and supervisors had been able to communicate clearly.
Wireless Headsets and the High-Performing Team
Apart from safety considerations, wireless communication headsets offer other important benefits for the construction company’s bottom line. These include:
- Greater efficiency—Because the communication channel is open continuously, workers who use wireless headsets avoid the need to page someone or waste precious time getting their attention. Conversations can be initiated or interrupted instantly, in real time.
- Improved productivity—With greater efficiency comes increased productivity. When everyone is in instantaneous contact, work crews can accomplish more tasks in less time.
- Better teamwork—Research shows that construction crews who communicate frequently are more cohesive and do a better job of completing shared tasks. In creating an environment of continuous communication, wireless headsets encourage a greater sense of professionalism and teamwork, both of which foster the development of a high-performing crew.
- More effective training—Wireless headsets can be used to create a virtual classroom for apprentices on a construction site. Questions can be answered and problems solved immediately, rather than waiting for a supervisor to arrive on the scene.
- Lower stress—Shouting, waving and straining to hear instructions is stressful and exhausting. By simultaneously creating an environment in which normal conversation can take place and removing the disruptive effects of background noise, wireless headsets offer the best of both worlds: communication clarity and hearing protection.