It has now been a whole year since the COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives, and it’s time to reflect on how it has altered the workplace and, crucially, how many pages have had to be added to the health and safety rule book.
One demand that is now shared by virtually all workplaces – particularly those on the frontline – is the need for safe communication. Typically, these industries might have relied on push-to-talk radios or intercom systems to relay critical information, but in a post-COVID world, these technologies come with associated risk.
For instance, push-to-talk radios are often shared between many employees and require contact to operate. Intercom phone systems also use shared surfaces which would require constant disinfecting between uses – hardly ideal during a busy shift on the factory floor or a hospital wing. Even if intercom systems were to be disinfected between uses, staff in areas that required heavy PPE would still find themselves removing gloves, visors and masks to use them properly, thus making themselves and others more vulnerable in the process.
Smart PPE and communication
To remedy this communication problem, we’re likely to see what’s known as ‘Smart PPE’ soar in popularity. Smart PPE simply refers to PPE that’s been outfitted with intelligent technology to increase its function, such as a hands-free voice-activated communication device built into a helmet, or an augmented reality overlay built into a visor or set of goggles.
We could see a situation in the coming years where teams over entire construction sites, warehouses or hospitals can stay in touch with one another without any kind of physical interfacing. Communication devices could be seamlessly integrated into existing PPE equipment such as visors, helmets and overalls, giving business leaders far more choice when it comes to tackling social distancing and contamination. Such devices could even use mesh communication networks to advance their communication capabilities even further.
A mesh-based intercom system doesn’t replace PMR or cellular technology altogether, but it’s quickly becoming the technology of choice for small teams who need to exchange complex information quickly, reliably and securely. One of the greatest advantages of wireless mesh communication is that it operates as a self-sufficient standalone network, with no need for a ‘base station’ and zero dependence on cellular reception. With certain devices, such as the Cardo Crew PRO-1, it can also be voice-activated, making it perfect for COVID-secure work environments where contact should be kept to a minimum, and enables two-way conversation at a range of up to 3,000 meters. Additionally, mesh communication is self-healing, so if a unit goes out of range, the rest stay connected and if that unit comes back in range, it automatically re-joins.
PPE manufacturers and businesses can incorporate this technology into their own equipment line-up, and we expect this to play a key part in helping to shape health and safety standards in the coming years.
Even when the pandemic is a distant memory, it will have left a lasting mark on the health and safety rulebook and it’ll be up to individual businesses to embrace new methods and technologies to help them keep up.