By Tim Booth – Safety Consultant
Let us first consider the current situation regarding the use of hearing protection and integrated communication equipment. Simple passive hearing protection is in decline and there is already a move to HPE with comms due to the benefits it offers. The recent covid pandemic has also heightened interest in this market space with the need to implement social distancing in the workplace.
The use of engineering controls to reduce noise at source and a greater understanding of noise as a hazard have also influenced this shift. It is being used ever more frequently to improve both internal and external company communications, improve situation awareness, reduce the risks of over protection, increase employee wearer compliance, and offer huge benefits for any safety critical operations. Gone are the days of shouting at colleagues or waving hand signals.
With the latest HPE communication products employees can simply talk to each other. There are a variety of different mediums including Phone, mobile phone, radio (UHF or VHF), DECT, Bluetooth, WiFi, Magnetic Loop or Dynamic Mesh.
Here in lies a potential problem and that is one of the sheer speeds with which these technologies are developing and any manufacturer hoping to make it big in this market needs to be flexible and able to get product developed, certified and to market very quickly. The phrase “future proof” doesn’t apply in this market. Those taking too long to market can find themselves launching their latest products to a market that has already moved on.
As a result, we are already seeing a decline in the use of radio in certain sectors – the use of any simplex solution has very limited appeal and in situations where safety critical is paramount, they have no place at all.
So, with passive HPE in decline and already some aspects of communication HPE also starting to be outdated, where is the future….
In my opinion, there are two key areas for huge growth and opportunity.
The first is in duplex comms. Multiuser systems, where members can interact, speak, and listen to each other, but also be able to interrupt if required for increased safety awareness. They need to operate over short range and be hands free so they can also work at the same time.
A system combining HPE, and duplex comms would be ideal, but there is also a market of such a system linked to headsets/earpieces that are not HPE for teams of employees working together but in low noise areas – such as hospital operating theatres. Such systems go a long way to enhancing the safety of many jobs and activities, but not only that, they can also bring about productivity gains by having employees in constant contact with each other.
The second is in the collection and transfer of data. Today, we have a whole range of different sensor device which employees can wear, and which generate data about themselves or their environment, or their location, or their movements etc. The collection of such data is a whole new technology in itself. Transferring this data to another source is one challenge.
The other is then the interpretation and understanding of the data to then affect and influence behaviours to drive increased safety compliance, safe working practises, identify accident hotspots, reduce employee risk, monitor movements, identify those who are accident prone and so on. By means of better data collection and interpretation, the world of safety can take a giant step forward.
Lastly, and of course, as I see it, the most glaringly obvious conclusion, is to bring together these two key points. Whoever can bring to market a fully functional duplex communication system with options for both hearing protection and none hearing protection wearers, but that can also collect data from bodily worn sensors (via Bluetooth) into the same system and transfer them (via a SIM) to another safe location, will have a huge market of opportunity across the globe.