In a chaotic work zone, missed warnings are accidents waiting to happen. What if you hear a shout, but don’t understand what was said? Is it enough just to hear someone yelling? Or, is it equally important to understand the message?
I’ve heard many customer stories that emphasize the importance of understanding versus simple hearing. Personal safety is paramount, of course. But when you add in the risk of equipment damage, the threat of insurance claims and the costs of downtime, it’s clear that misunderstood communications can have economic consequences right along with the personal.
How do you avoid misunderstandings? In an office environment, you might simply ask, “Everybody clear?” But on the production floor or in your work zone, equipment noise and background sound can make it difficult or impossible to hear even simple messages.
Crews will often try one or more of these methods to improve their ability to communicate in noisy work zones. They may work intermittently, but they’re not sustainable. Here’s why.
Pump up the volume in the work zone
Can’t hear your two-way radio? Turn up the volume. Sometimes a volume boost can help you be heard.
While volume adjustments do make voices louder, they also crank up every other noise: equipment, traffic; everything. If you’re having trouble hearing and understanding voices because of background noise in the work zone, pure amplification often makes the problem worse, not better.
Also, exposure to high volume over time increases the chances that members of your team will experience hearing damage and/or permanent hearing loss.
Shouting in the work zone
Didn’t catch that last message? Yell louder the next time. Shouting is even less reliable than a volume increase, since power varies from shout to shout. It’s also not sustainable, as anyone with stadium event experience can attest. You might try moving closer to compensate, but that’s not always possible…or safe.
Finally, a misunderstood shout may waste precious seconds causing confusion instead of delivering its warning.
Block out work zone noise
Another popular method of dealing with work zone noise is to block it out.
If your job site requires the use of hearing protectors (critical for worker safety in high-noise environments) you’ll know that hearing protection devices (HPDs) do their job by reducing the amount of sound that reaches your ears. Unfortunately, that includes voice communication.
To counter that, workers will often remove earplugs or lift an earmuff to talk with a crew member or listen to equipment. Removing hearing protection, even temporarily, exposes workers to dangerous noise levels. Hearing damage can occur even in that short time. Imagine doing that multiple times during your shift.
That feeling of isolation you experience when you wear a traditional hearing protection device makes many people uncomfortable. Your hearing is protected, but you can’t hear anything. Not the truck backing up behind you; or the sound of a motor about to overload; not even the fire alarm. Certainly not voices (sometimes a blessing).
EHS Today agrees that conventional hearing protectors “can interfere with verbal communication and detection of sounds vital to maintaining situational awareness.” Often workers wearing traditional HPDs will attempt to compensate for the auditory isolation by looking around more often. That means taking your eyes off critical tasks far too often.
Where does that leave us, then? From a safety standpoint, isolation is dangerous and being heard isn’t enough. Awareness and understanding are the keys to avoiding incidents. Volume increases don’t work when they amplify background noise at the same time. And blocking out background noise doesn’t work if you can’t ask a question, hear your equipment, or relay instructions.
The key to safer work zone communication
So how can your team hold a natural conversation in a loud work zone while wearing hearing protection, and still safely hear their surroundings?
Sonetics Wireless Communication Systems attack all three problems with an integrated, portable team communication solution. Sonetics Wireless Headsets connect large or small teams in simultaneous two-way conversation. Our industry-leading audio quality ensure that voices are crystal clear; no more misunderstood or garbled messages. And the headsets operate hands-free, so your team can keep right on working while they talk in normal voices. No more shouting. Work zones are calmer. You’re less stressed at the end of your shift.
Sonetics Wireless Headsets also protect workers’ hearing with a 24dB noise reduction rating. And Listen-Through Technology lets users toggle environmental sound for on-demand situational awareness. There’s no need to remove hearing protection to talk to someone without a headset, to monitor equipment or to remain aware of safety hazards like vehicle traffic.
For more information on Sonetics Wireless Communication Systems, visit our Team page.