Construction sites are often noisy environments. This is especially true in specialist civil engineering projects, such as when ramming and when drilling. Hearing protection has become an essential element of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protects employees against noise and the damage it can cause to their hearing. However, that alone is no longer enough. As projects become increasingly complex, there is a growing need for short-range communication and coordination. In practice, construction site teams usually coordinate on individual work steps by using simple, easy-to-understand hand gestures and signals. On rare occasions, this can present an additional risk of accidents, primarily because it involves workers using their hands. Different types of headsets with active hearing protection and Bluetooth radio-receiver functions have been trialled on construction sites operated by PORR’s subsidiary Stump-Franki. One system that has become established uses an adapted set of ear defenders as a headset connected to a digital radio device. These “heavy Mickey Mouse ears” are also used as headphones fitted with a microphone and connected via Bluetooth. Despite the high noise levels, different sub-groups of the construction site team can discuss matters on different channels and speak freely to each other. This encourages quiet, concentrated work, keeps both hands free, and reduces both stress levels and the risk of accidents.
Smooth communication on construction sites is a fundamental requirement for safe working, particularly when using heavy machinery like piledrivers and drilling rigs. The general requirements of machine technology and their use are rising while at the same time the technical occupational safety regulations are constantly changing.
In a project entitled “Short-range communication in use on construction projects”, PORR’s Occupational Safety team tested different techniques for optimising short-range communications on construction sites with a view to making them safer places to work and raise quality standards even higher. Today, the customised ear defender solution, which includes a cabled microphone, speaker and Bluetooth radio device, is in regular use. “The headsets have become accepted on construction sites and proven their worth,” explains Bernhard Schulhauser, a safety engineer at PORR. “Despite the noise, colleagues can discuss matters by speaking at a normal volume while safely continuing and concentrating on the task at hand. Short-range communication can connect small teams of up to three people. This is important in ensuring that employees do not feel controlled and can still speak ‘off the record’ amongst themselves – just like on a normal working day.”
“Construction site personnel are happy to be able to communicate despite the distances involved, the noise levels and the sometimes limited visual contact. This helps them convey clear instructions and information but also facilitates small talk, which means it provides added value in quality, safety and social terms,” says project manager Martin Puchler.