When Two-Way Radio Communication Fails
Sonetics | November 22, 2016

Many heavy equipment operators rely on two-way radios to communicate with workers on the ground. They’re inexpensive, easy to replace and keep operators from feeling isolated in their cabs.

But two-way radios aren’t always the best communication tools for heavy equipment operators. In fact, there at least three reasons why you need something better. You need real-time feedback from multiple people to stay safe and be productive. You work in a high-noise environment. Both hands are busy operating your machine.

Let’s dig in.

You Need Real-Time Feedback

Two-way radios can connect you to a ground crew worker or another operator. They can also broadcast your message to the entire team. However, most systems are half-duplex, which means that while you’re talking, other team members can’t be heard at the same time. Half duplex is one-way communication, which is fine for general announcements and reminders but falls short when you need real-time feedback to help direct precision, coordinated maneuvers.

Another real-time feedback scenario where two-way radios can fail is during an emergency, when the ability to interrupt is critical. When a team member is talking (pressing the push-to-talk [PTT] button) the channel is blocked for anyone else on the team until the speaker releases the PTT button. So if you’re talking on a two-way and your spotter wants to break through to tell you to stop or change directions, the spotter’s transmission gets blocked out. You continue unaware toward a possible accident.

When every member of the team needs to hear and be heard simultaneously—whether it’s a team of two or 20—then two-way, full-duplex communication is a necessity.

You Work in a High-Noise Environment

As a heavy equipment operator, your average daily noise exposure ranges from 84 to 99 A-weighted decibels (dBA). Being that OSHA requires a hearing conservation program when exposure exceeds 85 dBA, yours definitely qualifies as a high-noise environment.

Using two-way radios in a high-noise environment is difficult, frustrating and sometimes dangerous. Many two-way radios don’t have microphones that are sensitive enough to transmit voice traffic without including the loud ambient noise with it. The resulting over-modulated squelch or racket is the opposite of clear communication. In an emergency situation, no operator wants to be the person who can’t hear the warning or can’t be heard when trying to warn a coworker.

You Only Have 2 Hands

To talk over a two-way radio, you have to press the PTT button. That may sound silly at first, but not when you realize that to do that you have to remove a hand that is better used elsewhere.

You need both hands and both feet to operate heavy equipment safely and productively. If you elect to shut down your machine for safety’s sake to use a two-way, then you sacrifice productivity for communication. And during heavy lifts and coordinated maneuvers, stopping equipment is often not an option. Although communication is essential, you don’t have to sacrifice safety or productivity to make it happen.

Overcoming Two-Way Radio Challenges

Sonetics wireless headsets connect teams with hands-free, wireless communication. Using the DECT7 wireless standard, our headsets ensure full-duplex, interference-free, digitally encrypted communication for operators and every other member of your team.

To communicate, all you have to do is talk in a normal voice and listen. No need to use the PTT unless you want to engage your integrated two-way radio or answer a call on your Bluetooth®-connected mobile device. Many of our customers continue to use two-way radios to connect to team members more than 1,600 feet away—when communication is less likely to be mission critical.

In high-noise environments, an auto-leveling microphone automatically detects the speaker’s voice against background noise to create clearer transmissions. And you have the added advantage of 20 decibels of hearing protection and other noise protection features such as stereo listen-through technology, impulse noise suppression, and a personal sound dosimeter.

Two-way radios will continue to be popular for group communication, and they do get the job done for the most part. But if improving productivity and safety are top priorities in 2017, then it’s time to supplement or replace your two-ways with a Sonetics wireless team communication system.