Combining Hearing Protection and Communication for Natural Gas Crews
Sonetics | May 25, 2017

On October 19, 2016, a gas leak in Portland, Oregon, resulted in an explosion powerful enough to reduce a bagel shop to rubble, condemn an adjacent building, and damage several other surrounding buildings. An excavator at a construction site across the street from the bagel shop had accidentally removed the steel gas line from its fitting.

Thankfully, nobody got killed. But the incident emphasizes the importance of maintaining and protecting the 2.4 million miles of pipeline in the United States. The natural gas crews responsible for doing so don’t have it easy; every day they have to negotiate road traffic, geography, geology and high noise.

Setting Up A Safe Work Zone

Art Colunga and his NW Natural crew pride themselves on protecting their length of pipeline. When out in the field locating and marking the pipeline, they engage in a three-step process.

First, the crew sets up a safe mobile work zone. It encompasses Colunga as the crew foreman, a vacuum excavation truck and its driver, and flaggers to manage road traffic. Second, the crew uses a vacuum and a high-pressure water jetter to excavate and locate the pipe without causing any damage. Finally, after taking precise location measurements and clearly marking the pipe, the crew moves down the road to repeat the process.

Hearing Protection & Communication Challenges

The work requires full-time situational awareness. The crew’s exposure to dangerous noise includes road traffic (approximately 70-80 decibels), the vacuum excavation truck’s diesel engine (approximately 100 decibels), the vacuum pump, and the high-pressure water jetter (approximately 90 decibels). In spite of the noise, the crew has to:

  • Perform precision maneuvers based on voice direction;
  • Work safely around traffic and ensure the safety of drivers;
  • Communicate and coordinate while out of the line of sight;
  • Wear hardhats and other safety clothing.

How do Colunga and his NW Natural crew protect hearing while enabling coordinated, real-time communication among all crew members?

Wireless Hearing Protection & Communication

Sonetics headsets allow NW Natural to protect the pipes, the neighborhood, and their employees while enabling wireless, full-duplex, hands-free communication. For Colunga and his crew, it’s like they’re on a conference call. Except their conference room is a dangerous mobile work zone where they have to hear what’s important. According to Colunga, “I wouldn’t have this hearing problem if I would have had [Sonetics headsets] a long time ago.”

Watch a short video about how Sonetics headsets help NW Natural improve efficiency, productivity, and safety while protecting more pipeline.