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December 2, 2020
Safety

What did you say?

I’ve found myself asking this question a lot this year. Face coverings not only muffle sounds but also cover up facial cues that we rely on when we talk to others. Communication is obviously important on our jobsites, but the face coverings we must wear can make it difficult at times. Removing them to speak with others is not the solution. In one of our recent toolbox talks, we offered our team tips for enhancing communication while wearing a face covering:

Be aware and mindful.

Does it appear the person you are talking with is having a difficult time understanding you? Don’t be afraid to ask and adapt if needed. Consider how social distancing might affect your communication. As distance increases, sound levels decrease and visual cues are more difficult to see.

Speak loudly and clearly.

Speak up but don’t shout. Focus on enunciating your words and speaking clearly. Don’t hesitate to repeat yourself.

Talk with your hands.

Many of use gestures to help explain our point, and often it helps the listener visually connect your words to the message you are sharing.

Be aware of background noise.

Background noise, very common on construction sites, can make for a difficult conversation. If at all possible, take a minute or two to move to a quieter spot.

Communicate another way.

Text or write on a notepad if talking face to face isn’t working out.

Confirm your statement is clear.

Ask if your message has been understood. Inviting them to repeat what you've said in a respectful way can help confirm if the message was received and interpreted correctly.

Most of all, be patient!

Everyone is dealing with some sort of hardship, whether work schedules, school schedules or separation from family and friends. We can all use a little kindness and patience. Slow down and focus on the listener.

As the listener, it’s important to be an active participant in the conversation – asking questions, responding clearly and using hand gestures and nodding to confirm what you are hearing. Communication is important to an effective safety program. This year has tested us, and it's also been an opportunity to improve how we communicate even after COVID-19. If you think about it, these measures are just good communication skills that should always be used.

About the Author

Daniel Ruane

Daniel Ruane, CSP, CHSTVice President, Safety, Illinois & Wisconsin

Dan has 19 years of experience as a safety professional in the construction industry. In his role as vice president of safety, Dan is responsible for planning, implementation and maintenance of Pepper's safety training programs. He is involved in pre-planning of projects to ensure all safety and health concerns are addressed and conducts regular project safety audits.

Dan is actively involved in promoting safety in the industry. He serves as chairman of the Builders Association (AGC Chicago Branch) Safety and Health Committee and is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). He speaks at several events throughout the year including quarterly forums and the spring summit/safety awards ceremony. Dan holds a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety and Health from Illinois State University, and he is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST).