Why communication breakthroughs will be crucial to a healthy post-pandemic sector

Shachar Harari

By Lesley McLeod, CEO of The Association for Project Safety, and Shachar Harari, chief business officer & head of Cardo Crew

COMMUNICATION technology has always been a key area of innovation for a variety of sectors, but the construction sector in particular is one of those that stands to gain a great deal. Workers in construction typically operate in noisy, dangerous conditions where communication is essential but difficult. From Bluetooth headsets to clunky hands-on radio systems, there have been a plethora of communication innovations in recent years designed to connect workers while keeping them safe and productive.

Wearable, hands-free communication systems represent the latest frontier in this quest for safe, productive communication, and now that the pandemic has changed the communication game business of all shapes and sizes will be looking at ‘hands-free’ communication technology in a brand new light.

Since the onset of the pandemic, even the most hands-on workplaces have had to practice social distancing and mask-wearing, adding another layer of health and safety onto an already complex set of rules and regulations. Where workers might once have been able to share radios and other equipment, they now need to do what they can to stay apart and not cross-contaminate surfaces. That means working hard to limit contact with surfaces, and each other.

Lesley McLeod

If any sector is ready to lead the charge in terms of communication innovation, it’s the construction sector. Construction, which typically sees its workers operating in loud, hazardous environments, has been a driving force behind some of the greatest communication innovations of the past couple of decades, and will continue to innovate to keep its workers safe and connected.

According to some sources, the critical communications industry is growing at a rate of knots and will be worth more than $20 billion by 2028. That’s a compounded annual growth rate of nearly 10%, no doubt accelerated by the pandemic and our renewed focus on worker safety and the need for hands-free communication solutions.

Perhaps the best way to speculate about future breakthroughs and how they will materialise is to first look back at how the construction industry together with logistics, emergency services, hospitals and other sectors, have pioneered the way teams communicate.  There have been countless communication breakthroughs over the years, but which ones have stood the test of time, and which ones are going to be most valuable to us as we emerge into a post-pandemic world?

The rise of ‘smart PPE’ and wearable communication technology

Wearable communication technology isn’t new by any means, but its adoption and innovation have certainly been accelerated since the pandemic. While front-line and mission-critical workers carried on throughout the pandemic, they still needed to adhere to social distancing guidelines wherever possible and that also meant limiting contact with surfaces and staying in PPE. Workplaces in other sectors, when they were able to go back to the office, also faced the same conundrum. Health and safety had changed and businesses needed to adapt accordingly. Their answer? Wearable communication technology in the form of ‘Smart PPE’.

By incorporating comms technology into masks, helmets, visors and overalls, workers in a variety of settings were able to communicate completely hands-free without removing their PPE, giving them complete freedom without compromising on safety. No more pulling off visors to fiddle with intercoms, or reaching for the bulky radio that’s been passed around from shift to shift. Smart PPE makes construction sites and other environments safer for workers by giving them the ability to stay in touch with their co-workers without having to interface with anything physically or share personal devices.

Intelligent ‘active listening’ ear protectors

Did you know that an estimated 22 million workers every year are exposed to potentially damaging levels of noise? The traditional solution would be to muffle the sound with ear guards, but that comes with its own set of problems. You see, communication is as much about listening as it is speaking. For workers in busy,

loud or spacious environments like construction sites, being able to hear what’s going on around you while also protecting your ears from potentially damaging sounds is crucial. Active listening headphones can protect workers from potentially damaging noises such as heavy machinery, but let through important sounds such as warning signals, radio communications or the voices of their co-workers. That means instead of constantly taking protective ear guards on and off, or lifting a cup up off the ear to hear a colleague yell something important, active listening headphones allow workers to stay alert and in-tune with their surroundings without putting their hearing at risk.

Pioneering self-healing networks

A perfect companion to ‘smart PPE’ but also an excellent technology in its own right, self-healing networks are designed for teams that are constantly on the move, from hospital staff to busy construction teams. They’re called ‘self-healing’ because of their ability to reconnect units that come back within range, and they stay connected even when one or more units drop off the network.

A self-healing network is a cut above Bluetooth, which is typically unreliable with limited range, and requires no base unit – allowing team members to roam far and wide and stay in touch so long as they’re in range. It facilitates ‘always on’ communication, meaning no need to push buttons to talk and can be voice-activated, so no member of staff has to come into contact with another – or with any surface. While not invented since the pandemic, much like Smart PPE, its uptake has increased dramatically.

Communication breakthroughs have been central to health and safety for a number of years, but as we emerge into a so-called ‘new normal’ following the pandemic, sectors like construction are going to play a critical role in keeping those innovations coming.