Revolutionizing Construction Safety: Innovations in Hearing Protection Technology
the hearing protection paradox
On active construction sites, hearing protection typically looks like a hard hat with earmuffs or plugs that shut out harmful noise. The problem is, blocking out the harmful noise like jackhammering and pile driving means you’re blocking out everything else, too. “You can’t have conversations about the work taking place while keeping your ears safe with typical hearing protection,” said Karen Counes, program and construction management practice leader. “If you're talking to me, unless I can read lips, I can’t understand you. The first thing I need to do is take off one of my earmuffs and expose my eardrums to loud sound so we can have a conversation. We knew there had to be a better way.”
a sound solution for construction safety
Hungry for a solution, CDM Smith's construction management group leveraged our R&D program to test and research options in the field. Seeking technology that lives up to the group's principles of safety, quality and reliability, one contender stuck out. Sensear is an enhanced form of hearing protection designed for heavy construction sites that proved successful at keeping staff and clients safe while unlocking new possibilities for communication and efficiency on site. As a mobile, wearable, hands-free telecom technology, this device attaches to a hard hat and makes it easier for the field construction inspectors and managers to collaborate. “The biggest benefit is that I can hear conversations around me, but it drowns out other noise completely,” said Christopher Barto, senior inspector. “The idea of being able to communicate with each other and not shout in each other’s ears or remove our earmuffs to talk finally allows for free conversation.”
integrating technology, promoting accessibility
Bluetooth enabled products like Sensear can also layer with other technologies such as Microsoft HoloLens and Realwear HMT devices to see plans and construction conditions in real-time and communicate to office staff or other stakeholders via cell phone or Microsoft Teams. Being able to build our construction tech stack helps our teams deliver work more efficiently and safely. “When we were out in the field testing this, we were able to share different content and data, from the real world and the design world as well,” said Scott Aldridge, innovation & disruptive technology leader.
One thing that drew us to this device was the ability to integrate it with other digital technologies affordably.
One specific challenge we encounter in the field is that staff with hearing loss cannot use earplugs or earmuffs with hearing aids. New technology allows these field staff to integrate their personal hearing equipment and their hearing protection with other hands-free or Bluetooth technology without frequency jamming, or interruptions to electrical signals of the hearing-assisted device resulting in high pitched, painful tones. “I have a little bit of hearing loss and I have hearing aids that hook over the back of my ears,” said Brian McCarthy, program management discipline leader. “You typically have two choices for hearing protection, and that’s either earmuffs or ear plugs. If I use muffs, that creates an environment in which I’ll get feedback from the hearing aid. If I use plugs, I have to take the hearing devices out. With Sensear being a muff type that goes over my ears, I don’t need to take my hearing aids out and I don’t experience the feedback.”
“As an organization, we want more people of different abilities to work on our teams. We can use a new bench of people in this field of work, which is something we appreciate when we’re trying to gather boots on the ground for a project,” Counes said. “Our goal is an enhanced, safe work experience for a greater number of people.”
The construction management group is currently piloting Sensear across active sites to define the new normal for staff safety and project efficiency. “If we can use a product like this to enhance communication, maintain our quality of work, our schedule, and limit risk to our own employees and clients, that’s a more efficient way to do business,” Counes said.