7 Signs Heavy Equipment Operators Need Better Communication
Sonetics | November 10, 2016

For heavy equipment operators, their office is the cab. That’s where they’re comfortable. That’s where they’re calling the shots.

But as much as they like the control, they don’t want to feel cut off from the rest of the crew. They need to be able to concentrate to do their job well, but not to the point of isolation. Even though they might not have easy access to a restroom, they need open communication lines.

It’s not always obvious that you need to improve communication for your heavy equipment operators. They may not know what they’re missing. Or, they may be wary of introducing something new. But if any of these seven signs appear regularly, then you need to improve communication for operators sooner rather than later.

Sign #1: Interference Interruptions

There are two kinds of interference: visual and audio. Visual is when there’s a physical barrier between an operator and their spotter. If the operator can’t see it, then the signal isn’t received.

Audio interference is more complex. With two-way radios, interference can result from a variety of issues, including broken antennas, cross talk, button mashing and narrowbanding. Mandated by the FCC to create additional channels, narrowbanding reduces frequency range and makes certain sounds indistinguishable, such as the high-frequency letters “s” and “f.” That kind of audio confusion can be frustrating and even dangerous, especially operators require clear instructions for utmost precision.

Bluetooth-connected devices compete with WiFi routers, security systems and, with the advent of the Internet of Things, refrigerators, cars, watches and just about any other product labeled as “smart.”

Finally, cell phones are at the mercy of the network. Coverage typically fails when it’s most needed. And, as is the case with two-way radios, heavy equipment operators have to remove a hand from the controls to engage the device.

Sign #2: Safety Concerns

Any time there’s an accident, communication falls under the microscope. Investigators scrutinize everything from training to site logistics to response times. To a lesser degree, you may go through the same kind of review if you are cited for a safety violation. Either way, improving communication always improves safety for heavy equipment operators and other workers on the site.

Sign #3: Missing Deadlines

Are projects constantly being pushed out? Are operators struggling to keep up with the workload? Has “date of completion” turned arbitrary? Anyone can have an off day. But if falling short is a chronic issue, then your heavy equipment operators will benefit from better communication to help them work more efficiently, since even tiny improvements can snowball into big savings.

Sign #4: Hurry Up and Wait

Are operators spending more time waiting in their cabs than operating? Or is the rest of your crew waiting for operators to deliver? A finely tuned project requires clear communication among heavy equipment operators to optimize productivity. You see this with heavy equipment operators who have worked together for a long time. They spend so many hours working together that they know each other’s rhythms. It’s like a back-shoulder pass from a quarterback to a receiver. It’s not safe to attempt such a risky play unless the two players have spent hours practicing the timing.

Unfortunately, most heavy equipment operators don’t have the luxury of working with the same team all of the time. As specialists, they have to be able to adapt to the working rhythms of each new project crew. Improving real-time communication helps make up for the lack of familiarity by reducing the time spent waiting around for materials, personnel or instructions on what to do next.

Sign #5: Visual Dependency

Heavy equipment operators depend on hand signals, flags, lights and visual alarms to get their jobs done safely and efficiently. These visual signals are even more effective when supplemented with audio communication. Plus, it’s more common today for operators to become overwhelmed by too many visual alarms—a phenomenon known as alarm fatigue. Adding dependable audio communication closes up those gaps where an operator accidentally misses a life-threatening visual signal.

Sign #6: Equipment Damage

If your equipment repair or replacement bills are going up but your profits are stagnant, then a lack of real-time communication between operators and other crewmembers may be to blame. Operators that try to rush to complete tasks may be more likely to push equipment beyond its limits. Also, communication interference or breakdowns may result in misunderstood directions. Improving communications reduces operator error, prevents collisions and keeps the worksite safer.

Sign #7: High Stress/Low Morale

Nothing upsets an operator more than being set up to fail. Except being isolated from the rest of the project. Both result in high stress and low morale. Avoid both by improving communication.

The ability to hear and be heard in real time instills confidence in a heavy equipment operator. No one feels out of the loop and everyone has the opportunity to contribute. Operators understand that dangerous situations require optimal situational awareness. They need proper communication tools to allow them to operate their equipment safely.

Every operator wants to end their shift in good health and with a sense of accomplishment. Improving communication empowers them to do just that.

What To Do Next

If you see any of these signs appearing regularly with your heavy equipment operators, then you know that it’s time to improve communication. However, you don’t want operators feeling like they’re being forced into something. Any solution that is disruptive or uncomfortable will complicate matters. You want better communication because it simplifies.

Sonetics wireless headsets and communication systems enable the hands-free, real-time communication your heavy equipment operators need to make fewer mistakes, get more done and not get hurt. Full-duplex DECT7 communication allows operators to hear and be heard by everyone else connected to the system. You can hardline a connection to a two-way radio if you need it. You can also connect to a cell phone over Bluetooth. The hearing protection combined with stereo listen-through technology makes the headsets even more comfortable while improving situational awareness.

With Sonetics, you can make communication simple for your heavy equipment operators. Their jobs are hard enough as it is.