Communication Can Prevent Damage And Equipment Downtime
Construction sites are busy places. No matter how skilled and attentive operators are, sometimes it takes more than one person to safely operate heavy equipment. Without reliable real-time communication between operators and spotters, mistakes can happen. And that can lead to damage and equipment downtime — or much worse.
Although poor maintenance can bring about accident-causing failures, most of the time the primary cause of equipment damage and downtime is human error. Operators ignore rules, or they make judgment mistakes because they don’t have all the information they need. Cranes are a good example of equipment that requires communication-based operation, but other machinery can require teamwork, too, depending on the project and working conditions.
How bad can things get without adequate communication?
Let’s look at a worst-case scenario involving a crawler crane – a well-publicized disaster that occurred early last year. The crane was working in Lower Manhattan when it collapsed during high winds. The equipment was totaled, but that was just the beginning.
The collapsing crane severely damaged buildings along two city blocks, demolished cars parked on the street, and broke multiple water and gas mains. Worst of all, three people were injured and one died as a result of the accident.
Although high winds were originally blamed for this accident, investigators later revised their opinion, pointing the finger at the crane operators instead. They reported that the operators were in such a hurry to lower the crane’s boom out of the wind, they made multiple mistakes. Was that due to poor communication? That’s certainly possible. Perhaps the crane operator could have been warned to begin lowering the boom sooner. Or to keep the boom at a different, safer angle.
The risks are high
Incidents don’t have to be severe to be costly. Machines must be repaired, even if damage is minor. So at the least you’re looking at some equipment downtime. But there will probably be broader costs. Worksite productivity c
omes to a halt while safety investigations take place and clean-up is completed. Claims may be filed for personal injuries, so workers’ compensation premiums may go up. The accident may trigger lawsuits.
Companies risk significant fines, too, if it turns out they weren’t following safety rules. For example, the City of New York has a long-standing (but previously often-ignored) regulation that does not allow cranes to operate in winds above 30mph. After last year’s crane collapse, the City increased the minimum fine from $4,800 to $10,000 for failure to safeguard crane equipment.
Hopefully you will never experience such a disastrous jobsite accident. But the lessons learned from this incident apply to every type and size of project, every day.
How can you practice safe communication?
With the right communication policies and practices in place — and in daily operation – you can avoid countless problems and mistakes. But the reality of construction working conditions is that communication can be difficult. Operators and their spotters must have eye contact at all times, but they must be able to speak to one another instantly, too.
By outfitting these crews with wireless, fully-duplex communications equipment, they have unrestricted voice access to each other. There is no risk of interruption from some other worker trying to use the same channel, and there are no delays that can happen when using systems that allow transmissions only in one direction at a time. In an emergency, especially, every second counts. Wireless, fully-duplex systems also work hands-free, which further improves safety.
Every business wants to avoid equipment damage and downtime. One of the easiest and most effective ways to address that is to ensure crews have real-time, uninterrupted communication systems in place.